Tag Archives: Serena

010.016

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Staring into Arachne’s vacant black eyes frosted over Eva’s heart.

Arachne’s eyes absorbed light. There was no shiny gloss, no light from within. It was like staring into the back of her skull if she had no brain or other organs behind her carapace. Her mouth hung open, slack. No wide grin filled with pearly teeth, no displeased frown. Just a vacant stare.

“Arachne,” Eva said, voice barely audible even to herself in the roaring winds around the ritual circle. She turned slowly, no longer standing with her body half twisted. Vektul shouted something at her and someone else was screaming, but she barely heard them. “Arachne!”

The spider-demon failed to react. Her eyes didn’t light up. Her jaw remained slack.

The red lines on the floor of the ritual circle flashed a bright white for just a moment before the red glow rose into the air. A laser show started swirling around Eva. Yet she couldn’t take her eyes off Arachne to properly stare at the patterns. Even when boiling sweat beaded up on her skin, she didn’t take her eyes off Arachne.

Watching Arachne completely fail to react to anything around her had Eva feeling queasy. Her vision swam, jittering around. Which was probably not something caused by the effects of the ritual.

Before even starting, she had suspected things about the ritual. Vektul being a vessel for Void being one. With herself in the center point, however, Eva had entertained the idea that she might be a vessel. Or, failing that, have something happen to her. Hopefully something temporary.

But Arachne?

Eva tried to move forwards, to reach out and grab Arachne’s shoulders to shake her back to her senses. Her foot caught. It stuck flat to the ground. Even with her legs being what they were, she couldn’t lift her foot.

She finally tore her eyes from Arachne to find out just what had caught her foot.

At first, nothing looked wrong. She didn’t wear shoes, so her feet were always the shiny black of Arachne’s chitin. It took her a moment to realize that the shiny black covering her legs was not chitin. A thick layer of fluid blood ran over her feet, pooling on the ground. Not a single drop actually left the ring she was standing within. As Eva continued to stare in a daze, she realized that the blood was spreading, seeping from her pores. It coated over the fabric of her normally gray skirt, turning it as shiny and smooth as her legs while leaving it free to whip about in the winds.

Before long, it had spread up over her chest, arms, and even her neck and head.

Despite all the blood covering her, a quick check showed that none of it was hers. Eva’s body had just as much blood in it as it normally did. Minus what she had spent to bind the nun that had attacked. Which meant that it was happening again. Not to the same degree as when Arachne had been stabbed by the hunter’s sword. That had turned a fairly sizable section of the plaza between the dormitories into a pool of blood.

This was far less widespread. More subdued. But then, Eva’s emotions were more subdued as well. She wasn’t the blazing demon of vengeance that she had felt like while fighting the armored hunter.

Now aware of what was wrong, Eva tried to move forward again. Except her foot still didn’t move. The blood locked it in place. All despite the liquid flowing and running up and down her body. It wasn’t like she had hardened it into a solid crystal.

A quick mental command spread the blood away from her body. It obeyed immediately, just as if she had touched it to her dagger. But as it moved from her body and into the rest of the circle, it vanished. Evaporated. More bled from her skin—even from her carapace, which lacked pores of any kind. Commanding it only a short distance away didn’t work either. The second her command was carried out, it stretched back long tendrils that latched onto her body. From there, it pulled back into one contiguous mass that spread over her.

Eva just about tried obliterating the entire mass with a clap of her hands when she realized just how foolish she was being.

She could teleport.

A simple teleport would leave the sticky mass of blood behind. Even if more leaked from her skin, it wouldn’t matter. She would have moved.

Eva blinked, aiming straight for Arachne.

Only to find herself right where she started, still encased in blood. It wasn’t like the few times when she had tried to teleport while wards were up. There was no metaphorical brick wall that she slammed her head into. Just a disappear and reappear similar to when she was first learning how to blink.

She tried again and a third time to the same result.

As she failed over and over again, the laser show above the circle whipped around. One of the beams of light struck Arachne dead in the back. Arachne stumbled forwards, almost toppling straight to the ground. Her catching herself before falling bubbled up hope in Eva’s heart.

Until she realized that Arachne had not caught herself.

Another two of the red lasers struck her in either shoulder, propping Arachne up. A third pressed into her lolling head, right between her eight eyes. It tipped her head back until she was looking straight up into the void.

A thin tendril of the darkness stretched down in a funnel shape directly above Arachne. It reached down with the lethargy of frozen honey. Eva didn’t even notice it at first. Not until it crossed over some of the red beams of light that were still flying about overhead. The black funnel against the black sky was simply impossible to distinguish without the light for contrast.

The funnel dipped low enough to brush against Arachne’s slack lips. There was an almost intelligent hesitation behind its movements before it dove straight into her mouth. Her carapace cracked immediately. Thin lines spread out from her lips across her face in a spider web pattern. No blood dripped from the cracks. Not to Eva’s sight nor to her sense of blood. But a dark fog churned and billowed beneath the chitinous shards.

Cracks continued to spread, not stopping at her face. Each of the many tendrils hanging off the back of her head bulged before cracking and releasing the dark clouds. Her neck, shoulders, arms, fingers, breasts, navel, legs, and feet quickly followed as the carapace failed to contain the onrushing darkness.

As the darkness forced its way into her body, it started to vanish from around the ritual circle. A dark curtain drew up slow and steady. Bright light peeked through the thin empty space at the very horizon. Hints of the surrounding forest, the base of trees and some brush, still remained outside their bubble of darkness. Though the curtain rose so slowly that only a hand-span of space had moved at the edge of the ring, the funnel into Arachne’s mouth was picking up speed.

Her body couldn’t contain the onrushing darkness. More and more cracks in her carapace appeared as her body started to grow in size. Smoke flowed from the cracks—enough to almost completely obscure Arachne’s actual body. But Eva could still hear every snap of the exoskeleton above the roaring wind.

The smoke flowed down to her dangling feet where, in some kind of cruel mirror of Eva’s blood, it pooled around the ground before thinning out and disappearing into the rest of the air.

Arachne had always been tall. Even while in her most humanoid form, she towered over everyone. Well, everyone human. Ylva had her beat by almost a head and a half. But not for long. Despite the weird angle the beams of light held her at, Eva could see her growing. And not just taller. Her feet, even obscured by smoke, were half-again as large as they had been. The rest of her was scaling to match. The cracked tips of her fingers occasionally came into sight through the fog of smoke. They weren’t so thin and needle-like anymore.

Eva tried to blink forwards again. She tried to move. Thrashing around strained her muscles and bones, but she continued trying. She tried to send the blood away, to obliterate it, to clear it away from her feet and knees just enough for her to move, to harden it with joints that would allow her to move, to do anything that would allow her to move closer to Arachne. To perhaps offer her friend some comfort if she could not stop the darkness.

But it was all for naught. She stayed where she was despite her best attempts otherwise. Even a full teleport to the gate room back in the Rickenbacker dormitory building failed to do anything other than leave her rooted in place. There was enough blood coating her that she couldn’t even turn her head to look away any longer.

The others weren’t faring well anymore. The humans hadn’t been anyway, but now, even the demons were being brought to their knees. A few, Catherine and Genoa notably, had managed to partially resist. Catherine was still on her feet, the one exception to those kneeling around Eva, though Eva could see the effort she was putting into staying that way. Her eyes danced over every little thing, trying to take in the sight of the ritual. Eva couldn’t actually see Genoa with her own eyes. However, she could sense the blood rushing to her muscles as she strained against whatever force was keeping everyone pressed against the ground. Everyone with the exception of Eva, Vektul, Catherine, and Arachne.

With Arachne being forced to consume and contain the black void and Eva being coated in blood, entirely unable to move, she wouldn’t say that they had been spared. Vektul, maybe. He stood perfectly still just as he had been when Eva had still faced him. Unable to turn to look at him, he could be covered in blood as she was.

Eva doubted it. Blood was her thing.

Still, he may have been immobilized using some other method. If he needed it. Of everyone present, he was the one who ordered Saija to stand still. He wouldn’t move on his own.

Juliana was out of range, being out of the circle. She, Serena, and the nun were likely the only ones who could move properly. Assuming the entire world wasn’t kneeling at the moment, which, now that Eva thought about it, was a very real possibility. Yet Juliana had Zagan inside her. Unless he had taken away her power, she should be able to do something.

Eva actually hoped she wouldn’t. At this point, interrupting the ritual could be disastrous. Maybe she could make it so that it had never happened, but there was no guarantee that everything would be alright. Void had to put Arachne back to her proper state. If Juliana stopped the ritual, Arachne could wind up a broken mess. Or worse. And then, it was doubtful that anybody would be willing to try the ritual a second time. Not with what had happened, everybody being forced to the ground and Arachne being torn apart. Maybe Juliana could modify everyone’s memory. Frankly, Eva would need her own memory modified in order to try again.

Which had Eva wondering if they had tried before. Juliana had looked fairly solemn as she walked off to stand by the nun. Just how powerful were Zagan’s abilities? Could she snap her fingers and reset the entire day back to the beginning? Eva couldn’t even imagine the kind of cosmological problems that would pose. It would essentially have to reset the entire universe.

But her delirious mind was likely overthinking a problem that might have a much simpler solution.

The curtain continued up the dome of the ritual circle, further revealing the surrounding landscape. With it, Eva could hear clashing and clanging in the background rising up and over the still howling wind.

— — —

Juliana bit her lip as the ritual circle vanished. It wasn’t gone gone. She could stare straight ahead and see the massive black hemisphere where there had once been a snowy white dome. But if she looked to the forest to the side and swept her gaze across where it had once been, she saw nothing but forest.

Presumably, that was supposed to happen. Nobody had been panicking anyway. Well, mostly nobody. Irene and a few of the others had fallen over and Saija got herself yelled at. But Vektul had said that they weren’t actually being hurt.

So she took up the solemn duty of guarding their prisoner with Serena. Eva hadn’t wanted to take the time to dump the nun off at the prison. For a good reason, admittedly. They needed to get the ritual going as soon as possible for fear of the hunter coming back and ruining everything.

Which was a very real possibility. Time was dragging on. She sat with her back against a tree, keeping both the ritual and the nun in sight. Once the black bubble touched down, she started to check her phone every so often. Since she bit her lip, it had been nearly four hours.

Someone should have asked Vektul just how long the ritual was supposed to take. Her nervousness at her mother and friends being involved had vanished entirely, replaced by boredom. It wasn’t that she wasn’t worried about them. There was simply a limit to how long she could stand around pacing while biting her nails.

“How can you take part in this monstrosity?”

“Oh shut up.”

Serena tried to add something. An agreement, by the tone of it, but it was hard to make out with how muffled her words were.

There was one person around who could alleviate her boredom—who was capable of conversation, anyway. Unfortunately, Juliana severely doubted that they would have any kind of proper discussion. So far, every word out of her mouth had been scathing annoyances about the company Juliana kept. None of which made Juliana all that inclined to respond.

In fact, now that she was thinking about it…

Juliana drew on a thin tendril of Zagan’s magic. Just a slight alteration to the fabric of reality that would keep the nun from being able to speak. To be more accurate, Juliana just wished that the nun’s open mouth became incapable of opening. Closed, in other words.

And the world complied to her wishes.

In the blink of an eye, the nun’s mouth melted away and left her with smooth skin between her chin and nose. She looked like some telepathic alien from a far off galaxy. Something the nun immediately noticed. Her breathing grew intense, heaving in and out until she was hyperventilating through her nose. Her hands were bound together by Eva’s obsidian-like blood bindings, but her fingers were still free. She brought them up to where her mouth used to be and started feeling around. The feeling quickly became more frenzied, almost digging her nails into her mouth.

Despite it being exactly what Juliana had imagined when she thought to get rid of the nun’s mouth, it was somewhat disturbing. Both the lack of the nun’s mouth and the frantic clawing at her smooth skin made Juliana avert her eyes. Serena didn’t—Juliana couldn’t actually see her eyes behind the dark visor of her ski goggles, but her head was angled in that direction. After a few moments of listening to the muffled screams coming from the mouthless woman, her discomfort grew to a breaking point. It might have been a bit of an overreaction.

Maybe she was more nervous than bored. She wouldn’t normally have jumped to such a mutilation. Even if it wasn’t actually hurting the nun, there was a point where cruel and unusual just became too cruel and too unusual. The poor nun had no mouth yet obviously needed to scream.

“Alright,” she said as she pulled on another tendril of Zagan’s magic, undoing her curse. “Just don’t talk to me. Okay?”

The nun’s lips faded back into being. The second they lost their translucent shimmer, the nun sucked in a deep gasp of air.

Juliana winced in advance, preparing for the scream.

Only it never came. Juliana squinted her eye open, watching the nun.

Her mouth was open like she had been about to scream, but had frozen with her eyes wide, staring behind Juliana.

Juliana didn’t bother to ask what the nun was staring at. She leaped forwards, past the nun and into a tumbling roll as her liquid metal armor built itself up around her. Just in time to protect her from a shower of dirt that had flown high into the air after a resounding crash behind her.

Spinning around, Juliana didn’t find herself surprised in the slightest at the armored hunter. She obviously hadn’t had the chance to repair her armor after her battle with Eva. Her breastplate was blackened and charred with a thin hole right in the very center.

Serena obviously had not moved in time despite being a vampire and supposedly having better reflexes. Too busy staring at the nun, probably. She had been knocked away by whatever the hunter had done and was bent over a tree branch a fair distance away.

Rising from a half-crouch with her fist pressed into a crater on the ground, the hunter brought herself to her full height. She turned. Lifting her fist, she took a step towards the dark wall around the ritual circle.

“No!” She drew on a tendril of Zagan’s power.

But the woman’s fist connected with the bubble before Juliana could work out how to properly oppose the woman.

As it turned out, she needn’t have bothered. The woman’s fist sunk in up to her wrist only for her to be thrown back. She flew through the air right up until she hit a tree.

Hitting the tree didn’t do much to stop the hunter. She crashed straight through the thick wood, sending splinters of bark, pine needles, and wood up into the air. A second and third tree exploded beneath her momentum before a fourth finally held together enough to bring the woman to a stop. The same tree that Serena had ended up hanging off.

The impact knocked Serena off, sending her a few feet down to the ground where she rolled for a moment before coming to a stop. Her motion didn’t cease, however. She clasped an arm over her chest. Part of her coat had torn from rubbing against the tree branch. She placed her arm over to keep the overcast sun from making its way inside.

Juliana doubted she would get much help from that corner.

“It’s a Po–”

Using the tendril of magic she already had wrapped around her fingers, she undid her undoing of taking away the nun’s ability to speak. Juliana didn’t need the hunter to have some wand that worked on Powers back at their hideout.

Though, with Zagan’s power, she could probably do something about it without any difficulty.

In fact…

At the moment, the hunter could hurt her. But tugging on Zagan’s power again, Juliana twisted reality. The hunter shouldn’t be able to touch her at all. So long as she had done it right, that was.

Even if the hunter could still hurt her, she had experience healing herself using Zagan’s power. And, better yet, it didn’t look like the hunter could really hurt the ritual circle.

Juliana breathed out a small sigh of relief. At least she wouldn’t have to worry about that.

The very second relief crossed her mind, Juliana—armor and all—just about tumbled over as a rush of wind kicked up from around the ritual circle. A tiny sliver of the darkness had lifted up, rising to just a hair’s breadth away from the ground. Gales of wind rushed out from underneath at a constant rate, forcing Juliana to shield the thin eye slit in her helmet with her arm just to fail at keeping her eyes from drying out.

A bright red light leaked out from the crack, making everything look far more bloody than it was.

In the gale of the wind, the nun was faring far worse than Juliana. Huddled up in a fetal position, the winds tore at her increasingly ragged clothes.

On the other hand, the hunter didn’t seem affected at all. Somehow, despite being thrown through three trees, she managed to move forwards, marching closer and closer to the ritual site.

Gritting her teeth, Juliana tugged on Zagan’s magic. If the ritual wasn’t finished yet, she would just have to keep the woman at bay herself.

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010.002

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“Are you insane?” “That seems pretty ambitious.”

Everyone in the clearing jumped to high alert. Everyone except for Eva. She had seen their followers through her sense of blood. Letting them know what she was up to was something of a risk, but she needed humans for the ritual. People would be finding out sooner or later. Might as well start with those she knew best.

Putting a hand on Arachne’s shoulder to calm her down—she was the only one Eva was really worried about starting anything as neither Vektul nor Srey were fighters and Catherine looked ready to run more than actually fight—Eva walked slightly closer to the ring of trees at the edge of the ritual circle.

“Alright, you might as well come out.”

Eva waited. The two in the woods were hesitating, whispering to each other. But eventually, one dragged the other out.

Serena walked out of the woods hand in hand with Zoe. The vampire looked about as nervous as she always did, which was to say not nervous in the slightest. Zoe, on the other hand, had her lips pressed into a thin line. Perhaps the thinnest Eva had ever seen.

“You knew we were here?”

“Of course I did. You could have just come out. Or asked.”

Zoe glanced down to Serena, frown on her face.

The vampire shrugged. “Hey, don’t look at me. I just said that there was a large ritual circle out here with Eva’s scent all over it. You’re the one who decided to follow them,” she said, nodding towards Eva and Catherine.

With a shake of her head, Zoe looked back towards Eva. “Please tell me you were joking just now.”

“I’m afraid I wasn’t,” Eva said with a sad shake of her head.

“But… why?”

“Someone has to try to avert the apocalypse.” Eva pointed a finger upwards as she spoke. She let it hang in the air for a moment before meeting Zoe’s eyes. “No one else is doing anything.”

Zoe clenched her teeth together, pressing her lips into a thin line once again. “I am researching.” She brushed her fingers through her hair. “I know, I don’t have much to show for it. Not yet. But soon. Someday. Eventually. And Sister Cross is working as well. I know that for a fact.”

“She has made about as much progress as you.”

“Well it’s not like there is much existing research to go off. Powers are about as well researched as fairy tales.” She paused, pacing around in a small circle. “Actually, fairy tales are probably the more researched topic.”

Eva did note the dirt around her feet being torn up. One of the shallower lines ran right through her pacing. She took special note to fix it up later. For now, she didn’t say anything and let Zoe pace.

“But summoning a power?” Zoe shook her head. Once again, she ran her hand through her hair. None of it hung down in her face. She still brushed it back anyway, tucking it behind her ear three times before finally settling down. “You can’t think that’s a good idea, can you?”

“Not really. In fact, that was why I brought Catherine here and why I didn’t say anything when you two started following us. I want a second opinion. I want to make sure nobody has better ideas. And I definitely want to ensure that this ritual does what it is advertised to do.” Eva paused and glanced towards Vektul. “Not that I think you’re intentionally distributing false information or anything. I just want to be sure.”

Vektul tilted his head off to one side. After a moment, he just shrugged.

“So I’ve brought you and Catherine here. I’m not good enough to look over a ritual of this scale. Though I have the design memorized, I barely understand what my treatment ritual is doing. Or the first version, anyway. The most recent version is way beyond me. And this,” Eva thumbed over her shoulder, “I haven’t even tried to decipher.”

Turning away for a moment, Eva blinked a short distance across the ritual circle. She picked up a large plastic tub from nearby the unfinished section of the circle and ran straight back to the surprised group. “This,” she said, dropping it at the feet of her waiting companions, “is the designs for the entire ritual circle. Each paper is marked out with a grid identification number. It’s shrunk down, but will still need a fairly sizable room if you want to lay it all out to look at.”

Catherine, who Eva stopped closest to, reached in and pulled out a single binder from the side of the tub that contained finished papers. A plastic divider separated the two halves; the finished side drastically outnumbered the incomplete portion. Catherine leafed through the binder, stopping every now and again at various pages. As she continued to look over it, a frown grew on her face.

After a moment, she carefully replaced the binder before pulling another out. As she looked through it, Serena hopped forward and leaned over the edge. She plucked out her own binder, glanced through it for less than three seconds, shook her head, and handed it off to Zoe as Zoe approached.

“Like I said, it’s shrunk down. You’ll probably not get much from any one paper. And the ones we’ve already finished with have not been sorted properly, so you won’t just be able to pull out the first three binders and have them be in any sort of order.”

“Eva… I–”

“Just think it over. Look at the ritual. Make sure that it isn’t doing anything unwanted. The real circle isn’t finished yet, so there is still some time left. But so far, nothing has really happened. Everyone has stopped trying to summon demons for the most part and there are no domains open on Earth, which probably helps a lot. However, should anything seem like it’s going to happen, we need to be ready.”

“Ready to summon a Power?” Serena said, mimicking Vektul with an overly exaggerated tilt of her head—something Vektul hadn’t stopped doing since Eva had mentioned him. “Seems a bit extreme.”

“Yeah, that’s what everyone says who I explain this to.”

“Who all have you explained it to?” Zoe said with narrowed eyes.

“Present company excluded, Juliana, Irene, and Saija. The two nuns from Isomer know about the ritual circle, but they’re not aware of exactly what it does. I’m planning on telling Shalise. Eventually. Just haven’t gotten around to it yet.”

Again, Zoe was running her hand through her hair. “I can understand Juliana and the others, even if I’m not too pleased with it. Why do the students from Isomer know?”

“Needed the manpower. The ritual is a huge project after all. And they owed me for a favor.”

“A favor? Wait,” Zoe held up a hand. “No, maybe I don’t want to know.”

“It’s nothing bad. Just me putting them into contact with Ylva.”

“That doesn’t sound like something most people would want.”

Eva shrugged and looked around.

When she had first come out, Zoe had been tense. Now, not so much. Nervous maybe. Not quite ready to run off to Wayne though. Which was something Eva wanted to avoid. Wayne clearly didn’t like her. Zoe did, at least enough to not complain too much about half the things she did. But Eva wouldn’t put it past Wayne to try to destroy the partially complete ritual circle simply to prevent its activation. Not necessarily out of spite, but simply because he wouldn’t believe in her good intentions. Or Vektul’s for that matter.

He would find out eventually. That was the risk in telling Zoe. Frankly, Zoe double checking everything might be worth having to fend off Wayne. Besides, if something big did happen and they lacked other plans, he might be a whole lot more amicable. She just needed to delay until then. Whenever that might be.

Serena, on the other hand, moved away from Zoe. She wandered a short distance away with her hands clasped behind her back, alternating between staring at the ground and the sky. Every so often, she would skip around to find herself in a new point.

Eva wasn’t worried about Serena all that much. The vampire expressed little alarm upon hearing what the ritual was for. She had been standing around Zoe in a manner that Eva would describe as protective—and Eva definitely wasn’t going to assume that she was higher in the loyalty hierarchy than Zoe and Wayne should anything come between them—but that was perfectly understandable when wandering out in the dark with several demons around. Doubly so given how close Arachne had been to jumping for their throats.

Arachne probably would have stopped as soon as she realized who they were, but there wasn’t a real guarantee of that.

Still, her presence did worry Eva slightly. She might not be worried about the ritual or its purpose, but the vampire might still tell Wayne. They were close despite their constant bickering and complaints about each other. Even if she didn’t tell him of her own volition, she would probably answer if he asked.

As for their resident succubus, Eva wasn’t worried in the slightest. Even if Catherine had protests, she was fairly powerless especially when placed next to herself and Arachne. Which wasn’t to say that Eva considered herself on par with Zagan like everyone seemed to say, merely that Catherine would yield if it came down to it. Probably. But that was assuming Catherine had a real complaint.

The way she was flipping through paper after paper, staring at them for a few seconds before moving on made her look more curious than anything. And, as Eva stood watching her, she pulled out a binder she had already replaced in the plastic tub, flapped her wings, and took to the skies. Eva watched her circle around twice before returning. Catherine flipped through the binder and removed one piece of paper, handing it to Eva a moment later.

“Segment F1-3A has an error. You drew a symbol of avarice where a shield of want should have been. They’re similar, but the symbol of avarice lacks these lines,” she said, tracing a finger across the paper. “As does your full-scale design.”

Eva lacked the wings to go up and compare for herself, but she would trust Catherine’s judgment. “I’ll make sure it gets corrected,” she said, slipping the paper into the section of the plastic tub that held portions not yet finished.

“I’d like to take pictures of the ritual circle from above, though I suppose it should wait until morning. My phone’s camera lacks good enough night vision. Even with flash.”

“That shouldn’t be a problem,” Eva said, already feeling much better knowing that Catherine would be looking over it all. Who knew which tiny mistake would be the cause of the entire universe imploding. “Though, do keep it a secret from Devon. I imagine he would freak out.”

“Devon is… quite talented with rituals,” Catherine said as she crossed her arms under her chest. “His input could help.”

There was a hint of respect in her voice. Eva hadn’t really been around the prison much in recent months, but she hadn’t realized that they had done all that much together. Perhaps the occasional ritual circle related question. Apart from that, they lived on opposite ends of the complex. Catherine stayed inside the women’s ward for the most part and Devon had his hollowed out cell block.

“The real question is not whether he could help but if he will help. Working with him, you’ve certainly noticed how curmudgeonly he can act.”

Catherine glanced to the side, making a face. “You could say that I’ve noticed. His temper switches between grudging willingness to help and open hostility at the drop of a hat. Presumably whenever he remembers that I’m a demon.”

That sounds like Devon alright. “But maybe involve him as a hypothetical. That might work. Don’t tell him that the ritual circle is three-quarters done.”

“He’ll probably figure it out.”

“Yeah, so use your judgment. I’ll trust you.”

Catherine shifted; an uncomfortable shift of her weight from one leg to the other. After a moment, she just shrugged. “I’ll think about it.”

Turning to Zoe, Eva stared for just a moment. Unlike Catherine, who was already pulling out another binder to inspect and discard, Zoe had a single paper in her hand that she had been staring at since the start. Really, Eva didn’t know what she was staring at. Any one paper barely showed anything at all. She really needed the bigger picture to get a better idea of the circle. Unfortunately, unlike Catherine, Zoe lacked wings.

Of course, she probably wasn’t really staring at the paper. It was more of a ‘lost in thought’ kind of stare. Her eyes weren’t even moving over the paper. Eva didn’t want to interrupt her thoughts, but she did need to mention Wayne.

So she interrupted anyway.

“Wayne should probably be kept in the dark as well.”

“What?” Zoe blinked twice before shaking her head. “Why?”

“For almost the exact same reason as Devon, if you were listening.”

“Barely.”

“And I don’t think he has the same kind of ritual experience that Devon has, does he?”

Again, Zoe pursed her lips. After a moment, she shook her head. “No. But I will still be telling him. Something of this magnitude…” Zoe ran her fingers over the top of her head, dragging them across her scalp. “I’m not going to keep a secret like this from him.”

Eva sighed. She really didn’t have a plan for if Wayne decided to destroy the ritual circle. Perhaps surrounding the area with blood wards would work. Of course, if he tried to teleport right into the middle of the circle, he could find himself in trouble. Trouble that would likely alienate Eva from all of her friends and companions.

Even if he didn’t, random students wandering around might accidentally stumble across the ritual circle. Which was the main reason there weren’t any wards already set up. It hadn’t happened so far—or Eva hadn’t heard any rumors flying around school about some giant ritual at least, which she assumed would happen the moment someone happened across it.

So not really viable unless she was willing to potentially hurt or kill random students, professors, and mundane people who decided to snoop about because of the tournament. Not that she thought people would randomly stumble across it. Nobody really wandered the infinite courtyard. In fact, it would probably be the event organizers who found it rather than anyone else. So far, she had really been relying on its obscure location to keep it secret above all.

For Wayne, perhaps Zoe talking to him would be for the best. Explaining everything. Maybe he would even agree to be one of the humans. Between him, Zoe, Irene, Shalise, Shelby… she wasn’t sure if the nuns would work given their implanted eye, but if Vektul gave them the okay then she would have all six. Otherwise she would need to find two more. Which might not be such a big deal.

She tried to think of all the regular people that she knew who also didn’t have bound demons. Devon was out for the same reason why she didn’t want Catherine telling him about it. Genoa and Carlos almost certainly wouldn’t agree.

Or perhaps Genoa would. She knew about Life attempting to pull Hell into the mortal realm. So long as this seemed more reasonable than other options—of which there were none—she might even help out.

Carlos, Eva wouldn’t be talking to.

Beyond them, Eva really didn’t know any normal humans. She would probably have to ask a few people from the diablery class.

“Alright,” Eva said eventually. “I’m not going to stop you, though perhaps wait. Look into the ritual yourself for a time. Then, should he have questions, you’ll be able to better explain some things he might ask about.”

“I’m still trying to sort through all my questions,” Zoe mumbled.

“And that’s just fine. You figure them all out to better prepare yourself for Wayne.”

“Oh! I have a question,” Serene said, skipping back to the group. “Is this circle capable of pulling other Powers from wherever they live? Or just Void?”

“I… don’t know,” Eva said, glancing towards Vektul.

“The design is merely what I was told to use,” he said with a helpless shrug. “If it can be modified for other Powers, I don’t know how.”

“Probably best to destroy the circle and all records of it after we are done with it then. Who knows what kind of things lunatics would try if they got their hands on the plans.”

“That,” Zoe said, finally looking up from the paper, “is something I can agree with.”

Catherine shifted slightly to Eva’s side, looking about ready to say something. After a moment, she just shook her head before giving a slight nod of agreement. “Not to mention how vulnerable Powers could be if brought to the mortal realm. Summoning Void…” She trailed off with a glance to Vektul. “I would be against it if the ritual had come from anywhere else. But if a plan is in play, who am I to deny my patron Power?”

Which was good news. If all the demons felt as Catherine did, then recruiting six wouldn’t be a problem. Srey, Catherine, Sebastian, Neuro, Saija, and one of the other demons who hadn’t bound themselves to someone. Lucy, perhaps. Arachne and Vektul had their own private positions—though she was still a little fuzzy on why Arachne needed her own circle, something she would be privately asking Catherine to investigate. And Eva, as the ‘bridge’ between humans and demons and the mortal realm and Hell, was stuck in the middle.

She almost wondered if she should bring Ylva into the loop. So far, she hadn’t mostly because Ylva was something of an oddity among all the demons Eva knew. Ylva acted more like Zagan than a regular demon in terms of temperament and personality, though with fairly different apparent goals. Eva couldn’t be sure how she would react.

Probably best to leave her alone unless she, Catherine, or Zoe came up with a good reason to do otherwise.

“But,” Eva said, turning back to Serena, “why do you ask?”

Serena shrugged. Glancing up to the sky, she said, “No real reason. But Powers are supposed to be super mysterious and unknowable right? Might be fun to ask Void some questions when you do this ritual.”

“Questions?” Eva blinked, moving slightly to lean against a tree, she crossed her arms. “What kind of questions?”

“I donno. Maybe like what does Void do all day? Void must get bored sometimes, right? Do demons have daytime television that it talks to? Do days even have meaning for something like that? Do Powers talk with other powers? What about a love life?”

Eva held up a hand, stopping the vampire in her tracks. “Do Powers even care what we think about them?”

Serena grinned, showing off her fangs. “That’s a good question too. We’ll have to ask.”

Sighing and shaking her head, Eva turned away. “So, you two will help research the ritual? I’d like to have it done and ready to go by the start of the next event. Just in case something happens.”

Knowing Brakket Academy, something was bound to happen.

<– Back | Index | Next –>


009.013

<– Back | Index | Next –>

“Construction?” Neuro asked with a frown, toying with of the golden triangles that adorned the tips of the demon’s long hair.

“Yep. Building a house maybe,” Eva said with a shrug. She couldn’t really think up anything else it might be.

Saija’s eyes narrowed to thin slits, glancing off to one side to avoid looking at anyone. Her lips curled back into a teeth-clenched grimace.

“Building?” She nudged Irene in the side. “I told you we should have done that last event. How am I supposed to build things?”

That was a good point. Something the other two demons apparently agreed with, judging by the nods of their heads. Really, even regular mages might find themselves not particularly useful. A fire mage wouldn’t have much to do in a house building contest. Unless they acted like a kiln to harden an earth mage’s structure. Really, it was air mages who wouldn’t have much to contribute.

Maybe not building houses then, but something else that still needed construction.

“For all I know, Redford is going to drop you off in the amazon jungle and tell you to survive for a week, build some shelters and hunt or scavenge for food.”

That would certainly be more exciting for viewers than some house building. Though long. Unless they streamed it on-line and let viewers tune into it whenever. Eva didn’t know how that would work with the television station, but maybe they would show a few hours a night. Or highlights from the day.

Henry crossed his arms as he glared at Eva with narrowed eyes. “And where did you get this information? We didn’t win, in case you forgot. Or did you forget which school we belong to again.”

Crossing her arms in front of her chest, Eva returned his glare. “Believe me or not. I don’t care.”

She considered taunting him for running off and having a temper tantrum when Arachne disagreed with him about the gorgon, but doing so would probably have him running off again. As she wasn’t participating in this event, she should probably leave the remainder of the team fully intact.

Though a small part of her mind couldn’t help but wonder if she could talk Anderson into swapping him out for someone else.

Juliana would be nice to have. She hadn’t signed up because of her parents, but they might have changed their minds after having seen—or participated in, in Genoa’s case—the first event. Anderson and Redford were obviously taking pains to make the tournament safe.

Given the cameras centered on the event, there were probably even more safety features behind the scenes. Redford would want to make good impressions on mundanes while Anderson wouldn’t want to frighten away prospective new students. Someone winding up mangled or dead would dissuade most normal people.

“Plan for what you want,” Eva said after a moment of silence. “I told you what I heard. Since I’m not allowed to participate, you can deal with it as you want.”

Henry took his eyes off Eva and looked over the rest of the students with a far less hostile glare. At least, far less hostile when he wasn’t looking at a demon or a human associated with demons.

Which was basically just Rachael.

Still, he reserved the majority of his ire for Eva.

And she couldn’t figure out why. Maybe he was friends with the Burnsides. Or simply had a bad experience in the past.

“There’s two weeks before the event,” he said, getting to his feet. “See if you can find something out for yourselves.”

With one last glance around the room, he snapped his notebook shut. Henry moved out of the room before anyone else could even stand. He barely managed to keep from shoulder-checking Eva on his way past.

Though only two days had passed since the night of the first event, Henry had grown far more hostile. During the feast, he had alternated between glaring at her and avoiding eye contact entirely. She could understand him being upset that Brakket Academy had lost, but he was apparently the only one.

At least, the only one of the competitors. A few regular students had alternated between blaming her or Randal.

More so Randal. His dormitory door had been vandalized with several scathing messages about his heritage and bound demon alike. Something about how a demonic elf should have been faster.

As if they would have done better.

The vandalism only contributed to his now obvious depression.

Even now, Randal sat with his head resting on his knuckles, staring at the ground. He hadn’t spoken once during the entire meeting.

Eva wasn’t sure what to say to him beyond her words at the feast the night before. But he didn’t have to participate in the next event, so he should be able to take some time to himself to get sorted out.

As for the next event, the vampire had so far not come up to Eva to beg for blood or to renegotiate their deal. As such, she was torn between whether she wanted Brakket to win or to lose. Losing could take some heat off Randal. Depending on how and why they lost, it might knock Henry down a peg as well.

On the reverse side of things, winning was generally better. Not to mention the potential amusement if the demon-majority team had lost the predominantly destructive event only to turn around and win the constructive one. The only two humans who could participate and didn’t have bound demons were Henry and Irene, and Irene was heavily associated with Saija.

Of course, like Saija had said, demons really weren’t great at building things. She was a succubus. Her talents lay in manipulative magic, though her raw strength could come in handy.

The other two demons, Sebastian and Neuro, Eva didn’t know half as much about. Sebastian sat in his chair, stirring a cup of tea he had procured from somewhere with an ornate silver spoon held in his gloved hand. He had a faint smile on his face as he stared off towards Henry’s vacant seat.

Neuro’s eyes swirled in thought. Literally. They were a brilliant green rather than the usual demonic red. He was supposedly smart, but Eva hadn’t been in a position to confirm it thus far. Maybe he would come up with something.

Unless he was thinking about something entirely unrelated to the tournament. That was a decent possibility as well.

Meeting apparently adjourned, Eva turned and started away from the small conference room that they had been using for tournament related business. She wasn’t the only one. Rachael had been out the door almost as fast as Henry.

However, she stopped as she reached the door. A completely impulsive thought took hold. A somewhat dangerous thought as well.

“Irene,” Eva said, “might I have a moment of your time before you run off to wherever?”

She sat up straight, offering a slow nod of her head. “Did you need something?”

“Just a little training exercise I thought you might be interested in trying.”

“Training?” she asked with a frown. “For fighting?”

Eva shook her head. “You’re an earth mage and I’ve got a project I’m working on that needs an earth mage.”

“Juliana isn’t helping you?”

“She is, but maybe it will help train you for this event. It isn’t a problem if you don’t want to do it.”

Irene’s frown deepened. She crossed her arms, staring at Eva as Eva moved to the side to let another student out of the room.

Saija stood up, strutted over to Eva, and walked around her in a short circle. She hummed to herself as she looked Eva up and down. When she stopped circling, she was a bit close for comfort.

Eva glared at her the whole time. It wasn’t that she disliked Saija, but the succubus was a bit much sometimes. Eva didn’t know what kind of relationship Irene and Saija had in private. Ever since the demon hunters had attacked, the two had been nearly inseparable. Really, she didn’t care what they did.

So long as she was left out of it.

And, at the moment, she really didn’t need Saija’s face quite so close to hers.

“What are you plan–”

Eva snapped her hand up to Saija’s chin, clamping her mouth shut. “Saija. You can ask your questions from a respectable distance. If you want to go with us, just ask.”

Releasing her with a slight shove, Saija sulked back to Irene and desperately tried to look like she wasn’t hiding behind the human.

Really, it had been months since they started going to school. Yet she was still thinking that Eva would bite her head off at the slightest provocation? Sure, she had just grabbed her jaw. But she hadn’t hurt Saija.

Thinking more, if they likened her to Zagan, maybe it wasn’t such an outlandish thing to do. Even knowing that Zagan wasn’t going to permanently hurt her, Eva still wouldn’t want to be on his bad side.

“Go with you?” Irene said, still frowning.

“Yep! I’ll show you,” Eva said, starting towards the door.

She paused as a thought occurred to her. As sensitive as she was to cold, Eva had barely felt anything the other night during the event. The entire ward had to have been heated. Just because it hadn’t snowed yet didn’t mean that it wasn’t cold. Eva solved the problem through heating spells, but not everybody was a fire mage.

“Ah. You might want to bring a warm coat,” Eva said with a smile.

“Alright, we’re out here without anyone else,” Irene said as she nearly tripped over a stray branch despite the light spell Eva had thrown out for her benefit. Saija caught her, keeping her from falling to the ground. “You avoided mentioning exactly what you need help with. I assume it was because other people were around.”

Eva turned with a smile, walking backwards through the rough brush. “Thanks for having the tact to not ask about anything.”

“Well I’m asking now.”

“We’re almost there.”

Irene stopped moving. “Eva,” she said. “You’re dragging us out here in the middle of the night and being awfully creepy about it. I don’t want to get involved in anything big again. I’ve had enough as it is.”

Eva sighed, stopping as well. Rather than answer right away, she craned her head back to stare at the sky.

“The night you fought the monsters that came out of my dorm room, those purple streaks appeared in the sky.”

Looking up to the sky as well, Irene let out a soft groan. “I knew it. This is something big.”

“They’re a connection between the mortal realm, Void, and Life itself. Two Powers and a battlefield.”

“Right. Way too big,” Irene said, backing up. “Eva, I’m–”

“Involved no matter what you do. Life is trying to pull Void into the mortal realm. Most likely in an attempt to make Void vulnerable. Unfortunately, Void will be bringing along all of Hell. Maybe Hell will take the shape of another planet or galaxy, or maybe it will catastrophically merge with the mortal realm, or simply unleash all the demons of Hell onto Earth. I don’t know.

“One thing is certain, it probably isn’t going to be good for us. Especially because Life’s reason for attacking Void seems to be because Death and Void are allied. Death might be the next target. Something, believe it or not, that would not be good for anyone.”

Eva took her eyes off the sky, looking Irene in the eyes. “So we’re going to bring Void over without the rest of Hell ahead of whenever Life wanted to do it in the hopes that Void will be able to seal away Life. Or at least remove the mortal realm from the playing field,” Eva said with a smile.

Irene didn’t say anything.

Neither did Saija.

After waiting a full minute, neither had so much as moved. Eva felt her smile start to slip. If Irene got scared and went around telling people, things could go poorly. She didn’t want to kill Irene, so maybe Serena could perform a little memory trick to make her forget.

Except Serena wasn’t in on the ritual’s secret either.

Eva bit her lip before smiling again. “So how is that for a sales pitch?” she asked, trying for a small bit of humor.

“Terrible,” Irene said, voice flat. “But you’re serious, aren’t you.”

“Unfortunately.”

Irene’s hands shot to her hair where she started tugging. “Why me?” she moaned.

“Well, because you’re an earth mage and Juliana–”

“I just wanted to come to school, learn some magic, work on my studies, and other normal things. I wanted to become an enchantress, maybe own a shop. I’m not a mage-knight or some thrill-seeker. And now the world is ending?”

“Apocalypse has been used to describe the situation by some of the people who know, yes,” Eva said with a reluctant nod of her head. “But we’re trying to avoid–”

Irene sank down to her knees, getting her pants covered in dirt, and cupped her hands to her face. She wasn’t crying… but she obviously wasn’t taking the information half as well as Juliana had. Of course, Juliana already knew half of it. The only thing she hadn’t known was Arachne’s mission to bring Void over to Earth without Life’s involvement.

At her side, Saija fluttered a pair of wings that hadn’t been out a mere ten minutes ago. She hovered over Irene, bobbing from one shoulder to the other without quite knowing how to help her troubled friend. Only when she placed a hand on Irene’s shoulder did Irene finally move.

She glanced out of her cupped hands, looking at Saija with a half-hearted glare. “Did you know about all this?”

Her head whipped back and forth in a definite negative. “Sounds neat though. I’ve never seen Void. Do you think Powers are cute–”

“I used to think I was the only sane person who went to Brakket,” Irene said, face back buried in her hands. The low volume of her voice combined with her hands forced Eva to take a step closer to properly hear her. “I was right,” she said with a groan.

Irene popped up, brows furrowed. She stuck a finger in Eva’s chest. “You can’t just say that we’re on the verge of apocalypse all nonchalant-like.”

“Ah huh.”

“‘Ah huh,’ she says.” Irene turned to glare at Saija. “‘Do you think a Power is cute,’ she says. Do neither of you have any sense of gravity?”

“Of course I do,” Saija said with a disarming smile. She spread her wings ever so slightly. “Every time I fly, gravity is there to drag me back down to Earth should I lapse in my gliding.”

Irene stared, gaze deader than Ylva’s. Without even a sigh or a simple shake of her head, she turned and started off in the direction they had been coming from.

Saija gave a questioning glance towards Eva.

Eva had her own frown leveled at the succubus.

Saija let out a little noise from the back of her throat before moving straight to Irene’s side.

“Did I say something wrong?”

“No. Not really,” Irene said without inflection. “I just need to go have a mental breakdown. Don’t worry about me.”

Eva blinked in front of her, hands up to stop her from going forwards. “I don’t suppose I can convince you to have your breakdown later? There are still a few things to go over. Like who it is safe to talk about this with. Also I’m sure Juliana would–”

“Safe to talk about it with?”

“Well, we don’t want to cause a panic now do we?”

“So you do have a sense of how big this is,” Irene said, hands on her hips.

Eva just smiled, ignoring the panic on Irene’s face. “Come on,” she said. “Juliana should be waiting for us. She’ll probably be mad at me for being so late again, but oh well.”

— — —

Zoe paused as her companion stopped to sniff the air. A vampire’s sense of smell wasn’t good for much aside from the scent of blood. A fact that had Zoe instantly on edge.

“Something wrong?” she asked, hand closing around the hilt of her dagger.

“I don’t think so,” Serena said. “Just a familiar scent heading off towards the forest again.”

“Eva?”

“Yep. Along with a demon who isn’t Arachne and someone else.”

Zoe let her arm drop to her side with a small sigh. Eva and demon likely meant it was nothing to be worried about. Especially because Serena had smelled Eva off in the forests on occasion ever since she arrived. They were probably just training for the next event.

Still, she couldn’t help but ask. “Who is the someone else?”

Serena shrugged her shoulders. “Don’t know. A human. I haven’t really interacted with anyone aside from you and Wayne, so everyone else sort of muddles together. No real distinct scent.”

“Could you find them again if they were in front of you?”

“Probably. Why?”

“Just curious,” Zoe said, continuing off towards Wayne’s classroom.

“If you’re really curious, I’m sure you could just ask Eva,” Serena said, skipping up and around Zoe until she was walking backwards down the hall. “Last time I asked, she told me that she was working on a weather ward. Something to keep rain and snow out. I wonder if she’s still working on that.”

“Weather ward,” Zoe repeated with a frown. Maybe something to erect around her women’s ward. She had confessed a certain distaste for snow in the past. Or it could be homework for Chelsea’s class.

Either way, it didn’t sound like anything to worry about.

Zoe knocked on Wayne’s door, waiting just long enough before opening it for Wayne to grunt out an answer.

“Come in,” he said. He didn’t even look up as the door opened. A boiling pot of orange liquid bubbled underneath a stooped over Wayne. His eyes never left the pot even as he gathered up a fistful of powder and sprinkled it in the liquid.

The orange liquid turned almost completely clear. Enough for Zoe to see the cast iron insides of the cauldron.

Which was something that struck Zoe as odd. Not the potion. Finding Wayne tinkering with potions wasn’t strange in the slightest. The fact that he was using a cauldron over an open flame was the real oddity. Modern potionwork almost exclusively used modern tools. Flasks and burners that could be found inside mundane chemical laboratories.

“Do you ever wonder why a potion designed to shrink things doesn’t shrink what it’s made in? Or the flask it is stored in, for that matter.”

“Potions are more your specialty than mine, but I would assume that it is because potion making equipment is enchanted to resist magic.”

“That is more of a safety precaution than anything else,” Wayne said, tapping the edge of the cast iron cauldron. “This thing isn’t enchanted in the slightest. No growth, no shrinkage.”

Zoe stepped closer to the pot, looking it over with sharpened senses. “Perhaps the potion making itself imparts some protection while it is being made and shortly after, keeping it from acting until poured onto something unprotected. Have you tried it in regular glassware?”

“Not yet.”

“What brought on this line of thinking?”

“Watching the first event, actually.”

“Eva’s basilisk golem?”

He gave a slight murmur of agreement as he dropped a crystallized essence of water into the potion. The clear liquid expanded instantly, going from half-filling the cauldron to an inch short of the lip.

Zoe actually took a step away. If that was some shrinking solution, she did not want it spilling onto her.

“Growth and shrinking potions are not very useful,” Wayne said, almost more to himself than anyone else in the room. “You can’t shrink a suitcase as the clothes inside don’t shrink. You can’t embiggen a cube of wood and carve out a house because the wood will revert after a time when the magic runs out. As such, I haven’t worked with them often. Seeing that basilisk grow just sparked my curiosity.”

“There are other potions that should affect the flasks,” Zoe said slowly. “Essence of Luminosity, for instance. It doesn’t usually make the glass glow afterwards.”

“Never really thought about it before. Or had assumed it was because of the enchantments. But watching some of Spencer’s potion spill onto the ground got me curious.”

He took a pinch of leaves and dropped them into the pot, turning the clear liquid to a milky white. Only then did he finally take his eyes off the potion.

“Ah, Serena. You’re here too.”

“You didn’t notice?” the vampire gasped, clutching at her chest like she had been shot before collapsing into one of the empty classroom seats.

Wayne didn’t so much as blink an eye, instead turning to face Zoe.

“I assume you’re here about Anderson’s request?”

Zoe nodded. “I haven’t mentioned it to Ylva yet–”

“Good. Don’t. As…” he trailed off, curling his lip into a nasty smile. “Nice as she seems to be, having her anywhere near children seems to be the worst possible idea that man could have come up with.”

“You were at the hospital at the time, but she has been around the students before. She disguised herself as a little girl.”

“I don’t believe that.”

Zoe just shrugged as she leaned against one of the tables in the room. “It’s true.”

“Well I’m against it,” Serena said. “And I doubt the other vampire would like having a minion of Death running around, trying to rekill us both.”

“I’m actually more worried for the Isomer students. Ylva has not been kind to the Elysium Order.” Zoe shook her head with a sigh. “Unfortunately, I think Anderson intends to speak with her regardless of my choice in the matter.”

“When you suggested he bring on security guards, I had been hoping he would not go the route of Turner. Let’s just find some nice retired mage-knights and throw them in front of him before he wanders around to all the demons in the area and begs for their help.”

<– Back | Index | Next –>


009.002

<– Back | Index | Next –>

Juliana took in a deep breath of the cool November air and let it back out as a long sigh.

The days were getting colder. Not quite cold enough to need a heavy coat, especially not while the sun was still up, but a light jacket wasn’t cutting it anymore. Winter was coming late this year, but it was still coming.

Soon enough, Juliana would be spending every weekend walking through shoulder-high snow, uphill both ways.

After a brief smirk at her own joke, Juliana sighed again. Just when she had been starting to convince her parents that she didn’t need to come back every weekend, the hunters attacked. It was a wonder that her father even let her out of his sight after that. While slightly more lax in terms of what Juliana should be allowed to do, her mother was just as worried. Even if she didn’t show it on her face.

Which probably had something to do with her near drowning.

She had downplayed it. On her insistence, Eva barely said a word, letting Juliana explain that she hadn’t even come close to drowning. If possible, she wouldn’t have said a word at all. Unfortunately, her cellphone being full of water along with being soaked to the bone was enough to warrant some explanation.

Though she had said that the water never went higher than her waist before stopping completely, that didn’t reassure her mother.

“What if the trap froze solid, you along with it? What if it had been fire? What if it had sucked all the air out of the bubble?” Her mother had gone on with a thousand more what ifs.

As a result, she had been forced to drop her magizoology elective—something she had really only taken in the hopes that it might make her father feel better about… well, everything. Now she was in Eva’s warding class with her mother giving her a crash course every weekend to help her catch up to what she had missed over the first few months.

Which just meant that she wouldn’t be getting out of walking to their house every weekend.

As she walked down the sidewalk, Juliana went over everything that had happened during the week. It would be the first thing her parents asked about.

Really, nothing especially interesting had happened. Something that Juliana would be happy to report. The less excitement, the better. For her parents at least. If she was being honest with herself, she liked a little excitement. Just enough to keep her on her toes.

Going to Hell was a bit much.

Juliana froze. Both her thoughts and her footsteps came to a screeching halt.

The house her parents had purchased was on the outskirts of town. The farthest possible residence in Brakket that could still be considered in Brakket. As such, it was something of a long walk.

And a quiet walk.

Too quiet.

She couldn’t point out anything in particular that made her stop and look around. The houses were few and far between on the edge of the city. Most didn’t have lights on in the early evening darkness, indicating a lack of residents. Untended yards were overgrown, grass and weeds stretched as high as they wanted without fear for a simple mower. Much of the area had long since been overgrown.

Nothing stood out to her. No glowing red eyes watching from the shadows. No leather-coat wearing dolls rushing at her with a sword. Not even another person walking along the street who might be a hunter about to pounce.

Still, the metal coating her body rippled, ready to form into armor at the first sign of danger.

She took a step. Then another step. Slowly, Juliana resumed her walking.

A shift in the wind had her diving to the side, armor flowing up and around her as she jumped through the air. She landed in one of the overgrown lawns, rolling a few times before coming to a stop.

Something hit the ground where she had been standing. She could hear the impact. The sidewalk cracked.

Not wanting to present a still target, Juliana pushed against the earth. Flaring her magic, the earth pushed back. Acting like a kind of spring against her feet, she flew through the air much faster and much farther than she would have ever been able to jump herself.

Her instincts proved correct. A series of boulders landed in the yard, each one nearly scraping her back as they fell and she moved.

As soon as she saw what they were—boulders of loosely compacted dirt—Juliana started to form some suspicions about just who was attacking her.

But no time to ponder. Another boulder forced her to dive to one side, only for the ground to drop out from under her to form a large pit. A twist of her hand pulled the earth back up to her, raising her up even higher than the surrounding landscape.

She had seen where that last boulder had come from.

Her eyes found a silhouette atop a nearby roof, haloed by the setting sun.

The plateau of earth beneath her feet started to crumble as several earthen spikes rose from the ground around her, trapping her in one spot.

Or it would have trapped her had she not been an earth mage.

A hill rose up, destroying the spikes before her. The crumbling remnants of her plateau sifted, sliding her along to the hill. Hills continued rising as she kept shifting the top to the next one, surfing along the top.

Her mother tried to knock her off with a few softball sized stones. Juliana twisted under the first, sidestepped the second, and brought up a wall of earth to block the third. All while continuing her forward movement.

A fourth softball struck her square in the back, sending her toppling forwards. Her own earthen hill that she had been surfing atop collapsed around her, partially burying her. The only redeeming thing was that her upper shoulders and head were still in fresh air.

Her mother blinking atop the mound, effectively standing on her chest, only added insult to injury.

“Not good enough Juliana,” she said, looking down on her daughter.

“I’ll show you not good enough,” Juliana mumbled as she wiggled her fingers—which was about all she could do while half buried.

The top of the hill lost its shape, acting more like a liquid as it swept off Juliana.

She had expected it to take her mother with it, but her mother simply blinked away again, appearing just over the now freed Juliana.

“Nice try, daughter. But not good enough. Where did you go wrong?”

Juliana grumbled to herself as she got back to her feet, half-brushing the dirt off and half-magicking it off her. “I didn’t realize there was another rock coming for my back.”

“That certainly spelled your downfall, but here is a better question. Why was I able to attack you with those stones?”

Blinking, Juliana stared up at her mother. She betrayed no real clues in her face, so Juliana’s eyes dropped down to the dagger held lightly between her fingers.

“Because you’re an earth mage?”

“Because I didn’t have to worry about being attacked. I stood in one place, didn’t even have to lift a finger to defend myself. Why didn’t I have boulders flying towards me?”

I can’t concentrate on so many things at once, Juliana almost said. But such an answer wouldn’t have gone over well. Her mother would have expected her to try, if nothing else. And Juliana couldn’t deny that she hadn’t launched one single attack towards her mother.

Instead, she tried changing the topic. “Dean Anderson wants me to join his contest between the schools.”

Genoa frowned. Whether at the change in topic or at Anderson, Juliana wasn’t sure.

“Does he now?”

“I told him that I would have to ask my parents first.”

“And we say no. You’re not having a demon bound to you if we can help it.”

Juliana blinked and shook her head. “I don’t think that’s what he wants. There were several humans and demons on the list. I think he wants a mix of regular humans, humans with bound familiars, and demons. And Eva.”

“Eva’s participating?”

“Apparently her arm is being twisted to get her into it,” Juliana said, using Eva’s words from earlier in the day.

“I see…” Genoa trailed off, bringing a hand to her chin. “If you’re not being paired up with a demon, I suppose my objection lessens. We’ll have to see what your father says. And what do you want to do?”

“I’d rather not.”

Eyebrows lifting, Genoa widened her eyes ever so slightly in a look of surprise.

Before she could ask, Juliana explained. “He just wants me to compete because I’m younger yet ahead of my age group in magic.”

Though Juliana wasn’t sure how long that would last. The rest of the students were catching up while she had been more-or-less stagnating for the past two and a half years. They would still lack her combat training and experience, but in terms of magical ability, Juliana would probably be even with them by the start of the next year.

“It will make the school look good in comparison to all the other schools who should only be fielding the oldest students. But I didn’t get where I am because of him or his school, you trained me.”

Normally, Juliana might have agreed right away. But that just irritated her beyond belief. If she was going to compete, it should be under her mother’s name. She should be advertising her own school.

“Well, your father will be pleased to hear that.” There was a pause. Just for a moment while her mother turned her thoughtful expression back to a glare. “But don’t think you’ve gotten out of talking about your poor performance here.”

Juliana groaned. “Shouldn’t you be resting anyway? What are you doing out here picking fights?”

“I need to get back into the swing of things. I was far too exhausted during that hunter’s attack. This is a great way to train myself up and you at the same time.”

Great, Juliana thought. I’m going to be attacked every weekend from now on.

“But don’t worry. It won’t be happening every weekend,” Genoa said as if reading Juliana’s thoughts. “It will be entirely random.

“Have to keep you on your toes, never knowing when you’ll be attacked.”

— — —

Warding, Eva thought, is not as simple as theory says it should be.

Eva dropped her arm, removing the carapace shield from her eyes. For a moment there, she had been worried that there was going to be a far more catastrophic failure. A few bright flashes followed by magic dispersing into the atmosphere was more than she would have hoped for.

Well, no. Not quite. She had been hoping for a successful rain shield. But if it had to fail, it was best that her ward didn’t violently explode.

She had succeeded once. A stable barrier that kept the rain out was actually about as easy as Eva expected. Unfortunately, it was a barrier to everything else as well, including herself. Had anyone been inside, they would have probably asphyxiated eventually as well. Eva didn’t actually have proof that it had been impermeable to air. It seemed likely though.

Since then, her warding had been nothing but failure after failure. Each one somehow worse than the last.

Keeping up trying might just give her the actual explosion that she really didn’t want. Even if it didn’t harm her, it might be noticeable enough to draw attention from the school.

Or other interested parties.

For the moment, Eva decided to sit down. Ward work was exhausting in a way that casual casting of magic never could be. Never before, no matter how many fireballs she created or how long her hands were on fire or even how much she blinked, had Eva actually needed to rest. She might physically grow tired from lack of sleep or overexerting her body. Blood magic tended to make her anemic after prolonged use of her own blood.

But never had she suffered magical exhaustion. She hadn’t known it was even a thing. Zoe hadn’t mentioned it during any of her theory classes.

Which made her think that she was doing something extremely wrong.

Really, it probably wasn’t the warding itself that took her energy, it was tearing them down after failures. She had to infuse more magic than it took to create the ward to tear it away. Multiple times.

Which might be the reason for her increasingly spectacular failures.

“Are you alright?”

“Mostly fine,” Eva said with a tired sigh. She did give Arachne a small smile. One to help reassure the spider-demon.

Arachne did not look reassured. The chitin plates around her mouth twisted into a frown.

“Okay, you’re right. I feel like I don’t want to move for the next hour.” Eva leaned back against a tree. She was probably getting her back coated in sticky sap, but mustering up the effort to care was beyond her at the moment. It would have been a bigger issue had she still had waist length hair, but that didn’t grow back in a week, not even for a partial demon.

The short fuzz atop her head was slowly trying to reach its old length, but this time, she might keep it in a short bob above her shoulders. Waist length hair was a nightmare to care for. Her shower times had dropped in half since losing her hair. Which, honestly, was more of a positive point than anything.

Arachne kept up her glare for a moment before shaking her head, sending the tendrils that made up her hair snapping through the air. “You wanted this complete before the other students arrived. It doesn’t look like you’re going to succeed.”

“Rub it in some more, why don’t you.”

“Just pointing out the obvious. Perhaps start with smaller wards? If you fail, it wouldn’t take so much out of you to destroy them.”

The idea had occurred to Eva, but she ignored it. She had been hoping to get it right the first time. Failing that, the second or third time. By the fifth failure, she had been too frustrated to consider attempting it on the smaller scale.

Arachne should have pointed that out much sooner.

It was a bit too late now. Eva had been out trying to conjure up a ward since school ended. The sun had still been up then, so it must have been a few hours at the very least. If her cellphone hadn’t been destroyed, she could have checked the actual time.

She really needed to get a new one.

With the sun gone, the little heat it brought to the November air vanished. Eva’s breath left mist in the air and, now that she was no longer actively concentrating on magic, she could feel the cold digging into her bones. Eva shook in a fairly violent shiver as she realized just how light her clothing was.

Despite her desire to sit in one spot and never move again, Eva dragged herself to her feet. “Let’s get back to the dorms, shall we?”

Arachne gave an eager nod, placing her fingers around Eva’s arm to help keep her steady.

Normally, they would have teleported back. They weren’t too far into the Infinite Courtyard, but teleporting was always faster than walking. However, Eva wanted to put as little stress on Arachne’s still injured body as possible. Even though her method of teleporation didn’t seem to affect demons in the same way that it had torn apart Lynn Cross or drained Serena, she still didn’t want to take the chance.

It was one of the main reasons they were actually using the dormitory instead of sleeping in the women’s ward every night.

So walking it was.

Eva leaned against Arachne and Arachne leaned back as they walked with each other. The spider-demon’s carapace wasn’t exactly warm. In fact, it felt even colder than the already freezing air.

Magic had a solution to most problems. Fire magic in particular was especially useful in this situation. Warming spells acted just like a tablet of runes set up to generate heat except they didn’t need all the fussy inscribing. A casual wave of her hand had her magic keeping the night air at bay.

She could have lit her hands on fire. Fire was even warmer than warming spells and she doubted Arachne’s carapace would have minded. But fire was bright. It would ruin their night vision at the same time as it signaled their position to anything that might be in the Infinite Courtyard.

Without Srey along with them this time, Eva didn’t want to take the chance of missing any movement in the moonlit night.

Despite being somewhat tense and wary about the possibility of something jumping out from the dark at them—the doll was still around somewhere, probably, and Eva couldn’t even detect it with her sense of blood—Eva walked with Arachne in a companionable silence. Neither felt an immediate need to talk.

Taking a languid stroll with Arachne was nice on its own. No need to weigh it down with unnecessary conversation. With her warming spells, she didn’t even feel a need to rush.

Though she wasn’t speaking, Eva was relatively certain that Arachne was enjoying herself as well. She could speak up if she was feeling uncomfortable.

So they walked through the Infinite Courtyard.

It didn’t take long to reach the edge of the forest section. They passed by the magizoology classroom and its conjoined zoo. As they did so, they moved from the rough terrain to the paved pathway that led to the school.

The closer one got to the school building, the fewer and farther between the trees were. That combined with the relatively straight path led to something of a rare situation.

Eva actually saw someone before the person entered her range of blood sense.

Arachne tensed the arm that was wrapped around Eva’s shoulder, apparently having noticed as well.

But Eva ignored the spider-demon. The figure leaning against the wall of Brakket Academy looked vaguely familiar. And not in the way that warranted immediate alarm.

Crossing a quarter of the distance to the main building confirmed Eva’s suspicions.

The person leaning against the wall was dead. Very dead. No living blood circulating through her veins. Yet she still shoved off the wall when she spotted Eva and Arachne despite her living-impaired body.

“Serena!” Eva said as she got closer to the vampire. “I haven’t seen you in forever.”

“Eva,” the vampire greeted with a fanged smile. “Good to see you again. Smelling stronger than usual.”

“If I didn’t know you were talking about my blood, I’d be a little offended,” Eva said, placing a hand on her hip and faking a little glare.

Which only had the vampire widening her grin.

Deciding to be a little ornery, Eva split her lips, matching Serena’s wide smile.

Serena blinked, actually taking a step back as her eyes dropped to Eva’s smile. Somehow, using some supernatural ability, Serena managed to turn her step back into a step forward. She got right up in Eva’s personal space.

Something Arachne actually let out a little growl about.

“Eva,” she said, not taking her eyes off Eva’s mouth. “You’re making me a little envious. Am I crazy or did you have normal teeth last time I was around?”

“You’re not crazy. And it’s good that you mentioned my teeth. My mouth,” she started, momentarily hanging her tongue down to her chin before continuing, “is a bit different nowadays and nobody has said a word. I was beginning to wonder if they just couldn’t see it.”

“Well I can see it and I’m feeling inadequate now,” Serena said, leaning back with a pout.

“So, what are you doing here?”

“Hopefully keeping Zoe and Wayne from getting themselves killed.”

“Ah. Yeah, they do seem to have a habit of attracting trouble, don’t they.”

“I doubt they’re the only ones,” Serena said with a pointed look. “What are you doing out in the forest in the dead of night anyway?”

“Trying to stop the rain and snow.”

Serena glanced up to the cloudless night sky before looking back to Eva, giving her a thumbs up. “Good job.”

Eva just rolled her eyes. “I don’t suppose you know anything about weather wards?”

“Not a thing. I might be able to trick someone into thinking it wasn’t raining…”

“Unless you can trick the ground, it isn’t very useful.”

“Ah,” she said with a hum, nodding in understanding. “You’re doing a ritual of some sort and need the elements kept out. A large one too, or you would just do it inside one of your prison buildings.”

“That’s… accurate.” Eva might have to be careful about how she explained her wards in the future. And to who. If Serena figured out what the ritual was for, it probably wouldn’t be the end of the world. Other people might not be so understanding.

“So what is it for? Giving yourself even sharper teeth?”

Best to be somewhat vague even if Serena was on-board to summon a Power.

“I’m hoping it is going to solve one or two problems without creating any of its own.”

Serena just stared, lightly tapping her foot against the cement pathway as she waited for Eva to explain more.

She would be waiting a long while.

“Burr,” Eva said. She rubbed a hand over her arm as she faked a shiver. “Sure is cold out here. We really should be getting back to the dormitory about now.” Her words came out stiff and awkward, but that didn’t really matter. She knew she wasn’t fooling Serena.

Hopefully the vampire would pick up the hint and not press more.

Serena continued her stare, narrowing her eyes ever so slightly. After letting Eva sweat for a moment, she finally sighed. “Maybe I’ll come spy on you one of these nights.”

“Hate to disappoint you, but there won’t be much to see even if you do. Can’t work on the circle until I figure out this weather thing. The winters here are not kind in the amount of snow they normally dump on us.”

“Well, I’ll figure it out sooner or later. But, since you mentioned the dorms, I wonder…” She paused, looking almost bashful as she clasped her hands behind her back. Her cheeks didn’t light up with a blush, but she was a vampire. Not really possible for her. “Do you happen to know anyone who might be willing to part with a pint or two of blood?”

Eva blinked and started to shake her head, but stopped as she remembered a few of the edgier students in her diablery class. “There might be one or two,” she admitted. “I’m surprised you’re not begging me.”

Serena sniffed at the air once or twice. Not quite wrinkling her nose, but not looking quite as enamored as Eva remembered.

“I’d say your blood has a cup of sugar or two too much, if you’ll recall my past analogy.”

That… actually made Eva feel a little bad. She had given Serena her blood, but never in a situation where the vampire could enjoy it. Now it was too late. Unless Devon went and found another valid test subject, Serena would never be able to have something like that again.

Despite her somewhat morose thoughts, Serena grinned. She stepped up and linked arms with Eva—on the side that Arachne hadn’t claimed—and leaned against her.

“So,” Serena said, “I don’t suppose you’ll lead me to these one or two people? I’ve been here for a few days now and haven’t had a good drink in forever.”

Eva just sighed. “Let’s go introduce you.”

<– Back | Index | Next –>


008.027

<– Back | Index | Next –>

Eva stood in the middle of a small clearing. Not the one a short distance from her prison. This clearing was out in the Infinite Courtyard in the center of Brakket Academy’s main building. This would hopefully prove to be a much safer alternative.

Or at least, more difficult to reach for the hunters.

One, perhaps the more troublesome one, was dead.

If Eva didn’t miss her mark, the other might return with something of a grudge. Assuming she didn’t starve to death because she couldn’t feed herself with her paralyzed body. As much as Eva wanted that to be the case, she wasn’t going to get her hopes up too much.

But with the death of one hunter and the idol destroyed at Nel’s hands, Eva was feeling safe enough to attempt clearing out an area for the ritual again. There might be other nasty surprises waiting, but it needed to be done sooner rather than later. It needed demons to work.

Between hunters running around and the doll—who Eva hadn’t seen since she ran off after the battle—the ritual needed to be done before they all wound up dead. If they ran out of demons, there would be nothing to do but wait for Life to bring Void over on its terms.

Something Eva had accepted would likely be far more destructive than doing it their way.

But those were all concerns that only might come to be a problem. At the moment, not having a ritual circle—or even a place to start the ritual—was a far greater problem.

Eva glanced over towards Srey. The demon was relaxing on a toppled log, using it as a chair as he thumbed through the pages of a book.

Fiction. Some fantastical story about a steam-powered society, judging by the cover. Not a book on magic or any sort of useful topic. Much like Catherine, he was reading purely for the fun of it.

Demons and their distractions, Eva thought with a slight shake of her head. Maybe I should find a hobby.

“Anyone watching us?”

Srey glanced up from the page. “Nope. We’re good at the moment.”

Eva gave him a curt nod in return as he went back to his book. He didn’t look as if he had any intention of helping out. However, Eva didn’t much care. So long as he warned them of any approaching hunters, his value was perhaps greater than everyone else combined.

Lips tightening as her gaze connected with Arachne’s, Eva offered the spider-demon a small smile.

Arachne was still injured. Even two days after the battle, her chest still had a hole in it. Her legs as well, though she had managed to pull her severed legs back inside her body, making them far less obvious.

It was that sword. Something about it acted similar to nun lightning, though only towards demons. Not quite the same, as it lacked the magic eating property, but it did inhibit healing.

Arachne was healing, just slowly.

At the moment, Eva was torn between destroying the sword or keeping it around just in case she needed to fight some demons. A third option, one she had been considering more seriously ever since she realized just how slowly Arachne was healing, was handing it off to Zoe.

If Zoe could come up with a method of reversing the effects, that could prove invaluable. Any similar swords would be rendered useless as far as their magical effects went. They would still be sharp bits of metal and thus still dangerous, but not cripplingly so.

There was just one problem with that line of thinking.

She really didn’t want anyone else to touch the sword.

Eva trusted Zoe. Quite a lot, in fact. She had been given almost unquestioning support from the theory professor since they first met. That was more than she could say about most other humans.

However, the sword was a danger to Eva. A direct personal danger that couldn’t really be compared to anything else. Not to mention the danger it posed to Arachne, Catherine, Lucy, and… well, just about half of everybody Eva knew. So long as it was in Eva’s possession, hidden behind her blood wards at the prison, it wasn’t going to be used against them.

While Zoe would probably keep it safe, she didn’t exactly have a home to hide it in anymore.

Again.

Though, maybe now that her third residence in as many years had been blown up, she might actually consider Eva’s offer of housing her at the prison.

Of course, Eva wasn’t too thrilled with the prospect of her prison blowing up a few months after Zoe moved in. She seemed to have extraordinarily bad luck with regards to homes. Unless the bad luck followed Ylva around. But Ylva hadn’t been living at her first home when it was burned down by Qrycx and the jezebeth. So it couldn’t be Ylva’s bad luck.

At the moment, Zoe was living with Wayne at his house. A place Eva still didn’t know the location of. She had never once been there. Wayne had never invited her. Or even mentioned his house. For all she knew, he teleported in from wherever Serena lived—a place a few states away based on hints dropped by the vampire.

Ylva had moved into the Brakket dormitory. Eva didn’t know if she had asked Anderson for permission or simply decided that it would be her new residence. Either way, she was now living two doors down from Eva’s dorm room. Along with Nel.

Neither had mentioned Alicia, but Eva had noticed a certain hardness in Nel’s eyes when asked about the former nun. It wasn’t hard to put two and two together.

Of course, neither were in the clearing at the moment. Eva was still keeping the ritual secret. And she was doing a remarkable job of it, if she said so herself. Given her failures in keeping several other things about herself secret—diablery and blood magic, namely—she was quite pleased with the low amount of people around her.

Vektul was here. He had the exact designs for the ritual circle in his head, making him not only indispensable but also more knowing of the secret than most everyone. That said, Eva doubted that he would be helping much either. He really didn’t seem to be the strongest demon around.

And heavy lifting was what they needed at the moment.

Last was Juliana.

Eva gave her a smile.

She only half returned it.

“Ready to begin?”

Juliana fidgeted, glancing around to the other demons. After eying both Vektul and Srey for a moment—something that had Srey shifting in his seat, though he didn’t look up from his book—she turned back to Eva. “Are you sure we should be doing this?”

“Mostly sure.”

The metal coating Juliana’s arms rippled before returning to its still state. “Only mostly? This doesn’t seem like the kind of thing you should be mostly sure about.”

“Well, yes. I agree with that. However, we’re not actually performing the ritual today, as I said a thousand times, just clearing the area.”

Something that shouldn’t be too much work. The grass and brush were a tad overgrown, but it could definitely be worse. There could be trees and boulders littering the clearing. It was part of the reason she had chosen the location in the first place.

Finding the spot hadn’t been that easy. While the Infinite Courtyard was grossly misnamed, it still covered a fairly large space. Roughly ten square miles according to Zoe. Enough that the entirety of Brakket city could fit within and still have space left over. Eva had wandered around, picking the fifth spot she had come across that looked even mildly usable.

There might be better areas. In fact, there were almost definitely better areas. It was hard to imagine there weren’t any given the size. But they couldn’t be anywhere too close to the school, or near any paths leading to the handful of buildings that had been built out in the courtyard. Not to mention, Eva didn’t really want to spend ages just wandering aimlessly about.

“We should really talk to Zoe,” Juliana said. “I mean, bringing a Power to Earth? I’ll admit, I don’t know much about the Powers. But, that can’t be a good thing. They’re in their own planes of existence for a reason.”

Eva just sighed. Explaining things a hundred times got annoying by the second time. For some reason, she felt like she would be explaining things a hundred more times before the ritual was complete. They did have to bring other people in at some point, after all. More demons and more humans were needed.

“Like I said, Zagan’s theory is that Life is bringing Void and all of Hell over into the mortal plane. Probably destructively. This ritual should only grab the Power.”

“So says Vektul,” Juliana said. “This guy just shows up out of nowhere and you’re going to trust him?” She paused for just a moment, turning to the demon in question before adding, “No offense.”

Vektul just tilted his head to one side.

“But you’re supposed to be in the center of this circle. Arachne too. How do you know it isn’t going to do something terrible to you? You should at least have Zoe look over it. Catherine too. You said she was good with rituals, right?”

That was something that Eva actually had been considering. They would need to bring in more demons before the ritual actually started. Catherine was not only good at working on and developing rituals, but she was also a demon that Eva knew. Just because the doll hadn’t come back to kill off the rest of the demons did not mean that they were good, trustworthy, and not about to stab Eva in the back.

But Catherine had her own interests and designs. She was currently picking out demons for her upcoming ritual. While Eva had offered again, Catherine still hadn’t decided on what she wanted to do. And if she wanted one of the other demons around Brakket, she had to pick them while they were still around. Especially those who might become bound familiars.

They might not be around by the time she performed her next ritual.

“I might,” Eva said, voicing her thoughts aloud. “But not today. We need to clear out brush and grass from here to about halfway across the clearing,” she said with a gesture of her hand. It wasn’t a very useful gesture. Pointing at this distance wasn’t very precise.

“Preferably with as little burning as possible. I’d rather not have a column of smoke pointing out our location for everybody to find.”

“So I’m doing most of the work,” Juliana said with a sigh. “Great.”

“Well, I do recall saving your life. Wasn’t going to force you or anything, but consider it a nice way to pay me back.”

Juliana craned her neck, looking up to the sky. “How would smoke even look from outside?” she said after a moment. “I mean, would someone sitting on the dormitory roof see a great black plume that appeared to come from the whole courtyard or would it be a thin streak, barely visible?”

Eva shrugged.

Space manipulating wards were some of the most complex bits of magic that were possible, according to Professor Lepus. Wards that Brakket Academy made liberal use of in both the main building and the dormitories. Apparently that same professor not only created the wards when the school was first built several decades ago but still maintained all of the wards to this day.

All without looking a day over twenty.

Eva had considered asking her about it, but eventually just shrugged her shoulders and assumed ‘magic’ to be the answer.

“But don’t worry. I’ll help out as well.”

— — —

Zoe let out a long sigh. “For the last time, I didn’t even come close to dying.”

In contrast to her own morose exasperation, Zoe got a fanged grin in return. Hands on her hips, Serena spun around, walking a few steps away.

“Zoe, Zoe, Zoe. Wayne told me you know? You would have been a crispy corpse without him.”

“He exaggerates. I was fully prepared to escape.”

“But you didn’t. Wayne had to save you and you know it.”

Again, Zoe sighed. Arguing with the vampire was just not something that could be done. “Serena, what are you doing here? And how did you get here?”

Pausing, Zoe glanced out the window. Night had fallen a mere ten minutes ago. It still wasn’t completely dark. In fact, it would be more accurate to say that the sun had dipped below the horizon ten minutes ago. About a minute later, Serena had waltzed into her office.

She should have been back in Michigan. A bit far to travel in the span of sixty seconds. At least, a bit far for Serena to travel.

“I can’t imagine Wayne would have brought you here,” Zoe finished, looking back to Serena.

“But he did!” She spun back around, boring her eyes into Zoe. “His sister can take care of herself. She doesn’t need me babysitting her at all hours of the day. And if you two are going to get nearly killed every few months, I should be here. Somebody has to protect you. And I don’t sleep—at nights—so I can hover creepily over your beds and ensure nothing disturbs you.”

Zoe rolled her eyes, shaking her head.

Ylva had essentially performed that task for the last several months.

Serena spun back around, walking through Zoe’s office. A stack of ungraded papers caught her attention. She skipped over and started thumbing through the top few, pausing every now and again to read some of the text.

“So he just brought you over?”

“Well, there was a bit more arguing. As I told him, I’m not some pet to be chained up. I do as he asks because of respect and friendship. Also because your company is far more enjoyable than that of my brethren kin.”

“I hope you didn’t threaten him.”

“Of course not. Friends don’t threaten each other. I merely suggested that I would be making my way here anyway. The long and laborious task of crossing several state lines would be dangerous to only myself. Well, myself and whatever I was traveling with. I might have mentioned that his car might not survive the journey.”

Deciding to ignore the fact that she had threatened him, Zoe sunk down into her office chair.

“Well, I hate to break it to you, but there isn’t anywhere for you to stay.” She waved her hand towards the couch in her office. A small case full of clothing had been shoved underneath while a few of her teaching suits hung off a rack overhead. “I’ve been sleeping there almost every night.”

Serena paused her rifling through the papers, looking up to Zoe with a frown on her face. “Wayne doesn’t let you stay with him?”

“I spent a few nights with him, and I’m sure I could say longer should I ask.”

“Then–”

“I am not a little girl anymore. I prefer to live on my own.”

Though, she had been living with Ylva, Alicia, and Nel since being kicked out of the apartment, and next to them before that. But they were more like roommates than anything else. It was somewhat like being back in school dorms.

“Besides, its only temporary.”

“Moving into the dorms?”

“I– How did you know?”

“Even in a housing market as poor as this city’s, buying a house isn’t a thing you can do lightly. Burning one house down, being kicked out of your apartment for vandalism, and blowing up another house? I doubt that any insurer will cover you. Which means somewhere free or exceptionally cheap.” Serena dropped one of the essays onto the center of the desk.

Eva, read the simple print at the top. No last name. One of the longer essays in the stack. Then again, it was on the topic of demons. Not something Zoe usually included in her curriculum. With all their new guests around the school, she had thought that assigning a research paper on the subject wouldn’t be the worst idea.

“Prisons just don’t seem your style.”

“You’re right, but your deduction is off. The apartment and second house were both owned by or, in the apartment’s case, paid for by the school. Both were something of bribes to keep me in my teaching position. Anderson is not as willing to pay for my housing as Martina was.

“I could buy a smaller home. I’ve saved up enough. Wouldn’t even need a loan. But you are right. I don’t really want to talk to insurers. More, I’d rather not have another house destroyed in another six months.” Zoe sighed. Again. “If, in six months, the dorms have become uninhabitable for some reason, I’ll probably just take Eva up on her offer to live at the prison.”

Serena hummed a few times before walking over to the window. She took a moment, just staring out at the black surface that now made up most of the ground between the dormitory buildings.

After Genoa had taken down her walls, Eva went around smoothing the place out. There were still no patterns in it. Just a smooth sheet of glass-like material that Zoe worried might become too slick once the winter weather started up in force. On her suggestion, Eva had added a slight slope and channels for water to run down, as the crystallized blood was otherwise nonporous. It wouldn’t help with anything that stayed frozen, but would get the water off the platform.

Assuming they could remove the ice, magically or through mundane salt, it shouldn’t be much of a problem.

Serena’s interest with the world outside the window gave Zoe a moment to tidy up her desk. Papers which had formerly been in a neat stack awaiting reading and grading had been strewn about into a disorganized mess. It was a good thing that she kept her desk neat. With only one other stack of papers, one that Serena had barely touched, it wasn’t hard to put everything back in its proper place.

Whoever said that vampires had an obsession with order and counting had never met a real one.

“Wayne said that new students will be arriving soon.”

“The top ten students of the top four North American schools. Here to show off what they have learned.”

“How many are going to be demons, vampires, dragonkin, necromancers, or half-fae?”

“I would say hopefully none. We have enough excitement as is. However, the Nod Complex has been invited. I know at least a dryad will be arriving with them.”

“Yet a bunch of humans are expected to compete with demons?”

“Mr. Anderson,” Zoe said through pursed lips, “hopes to show off alternate methods of utilizing magic. A protest, if you will, against what he feels is a society stagnating by restricting itself to thaumaturgy.”

“Sounds like cheating to me.”

Zoe kept her mouth shut. The same thought had occurred to her. But it didn’t really matter. He would be getting the school’s name mentioned alongside the names of actually reputable schools. For the next school year, they might not have to go around, scrounging for students. Some might actually apply willingly.

“Who is running the betting pool on some disaster happening while the other schools are here?”

Zoe blinked in confusion. “I’m… What?”

“Figures you wouldn’t know,” Serena said, turning back to the window. “But somebody has to be gambling over this. Maybe I’ll try to sniff them out.” After a brief moment, she shook her head. “Though I don’t know why. Probably terrible odds on something happening and I’m certainly not betting against.”

Leaving her chair and walking around her desk, Zoe approached the vampire at the window with a long sigh. The fourth in seemingly as many minutes.

“Yeah,” she said, resting her forehead against the cool glass. “I wouldn’t bet against it either.”

<– Back | Index | Next –>

>>Author’s Note 008<<


007.019

<– Back | Index | Next –>

The young elf and the older man were both dead. Eva had never really talked to either of those security guards. Her interactions were strictly limited to Lucy and Daru, the two demonic members of Brakket’s security team.

Who were both missing, according to Juliana.

Eva closed her eyes and concentrated on feeling out for any demons around.

She quickly found Zagan. His power was just so overwhelming and radiant that missing him would have been impossible. From his power, Eva got a vague sense of direction. She couldn’t tell exactly how far he was, but it was in the direction of the main school building.

Ylva was somewhere in the opposite direction, inside the city. If Zagan were the sun, Ylva could be compared to the moon. A large body that was difficult to miss as long as it was around, but not quite so overwhelmingly radiant.

In comparison to them, Catherine would be more like a star. At least, so long as Eva wished to continue her celestial bodies analogy. It was there, but not all that prominent. So much so that it was almost a strain just to sense her.

The analogy broke down with the fact that there weren’t a million other demons to help cloud out Catherine’s existence. In fact, there were only three. None of which felt anything like Lucy. They could be Daru as Eva hadn’t interacted with him since her most recent treatment and didn’t know what he felt like to her senses.

All three of them and Catherine, were somewhere in the direction of the school building.

“Has Martina Turner been summoning demons?” Eva asked as she snapped open her eyes.

Martina hadn’t been part of the whole meeting where they agreed not to summon things anymore, so it was possible that she had gone ahead and done so. Wayne or Zoe should have mentioned something. Maybe they forgot with the whole cathedral thing. Or, more likely, Martina Turner just didn’t care about other people.

While waiting for Juliana to respond, Eva gave a quick glance towards their resident vampire.

Serena was still sitting on the floor with her back against Eva’s desk. Her gaze was fairly blank, but none of her muscles were tensed in the slightest. So long as she stayed like that and regained her sensibilities, Eva would be perfectly happy.

If Serena did go berserk again and couldn’t be neutralized without harming her, Eva would probably choose Juliana over Serena. Eva had grown fond of the vampire over their little vacation, but not that fond.

Juliana stood off to the side with her armor clamped firmly around her neck, though most of the rest of her head was uncovered. Eva did take the time to note that her hair was shorter by almost half compared to how it was when she had visited the other month ago. Her long blond hair now stopped somewhere just below her shoulders.

Shoulders that were currently lifting up and dropping in a mild shrug. “How should I know?”

“Well, you knew that the security guards were dead. With how I’ve been gone for the past week, I thought you might be a little more informed than I.”

“I literally got into town just an hour ago. The only reason I knew about that in the first place was because of notices posted around the town stating that an investigation was ongoing.” With an armored hand, she gestured back towards her bed where a suitcase lay open. “I haven’t even unpacked all the way.”

Eva glanced down at her watch. Her family was driving in at five in the morning? Unless one of them had recently come down with an acute case of vampirism, Eva couldn’t quite understand why they would travel overnight. Better yet, why not send Juliana on the Brakket school airliner.

More importantly, for the moment at least, daylight was fast approaching.

And Serena was still sitting on the floor.

“Help me hang up some of these blankets,” Eva said as she tore the covers off her bed.

“Hang up?”

“Sunlight and vampires don’t exactly agree with one another,” Eva said with a nod towards Serena.

Juliana’s eyes widened for just a moment before she moved up next to Eva. “Oh.” Her voice dropped to a whisper that Eva was certain could be heard with whatever enhanced hearing a vampire might possess. “What’s up with that anyway? A vampire?”

“Serena is a friend of Zoe and Wayne,” Eva said as she had Juliana hold up a corner of the blanket over one of the windows. “She was helping me kill Sawyer.”

Eyes wide, Juliana opened her mouth to say something. It snapped shut before she reconsidered. “Sounds like I missed out.”

Eva grinned. Juliana almost sounded disappointed, but she had a smile on. At least someone was happy about that.

Putting her mind to the task at hand, Eva decided how she wanted to hang the blankets. She didn’t have any duct tape with her, which is what they had used to hang up blankets all throughout their trip, but that wouldn’t be much of a problem. Pulling out her dagger again, she cut a thin slit along her upper arm. The blood flowed outwards, hardening into sharp nails.

It might be somewhat dangerous to leave her own crystallized blood around Serena. The vampire might try to eat it. Of course, she would wind up taking down the blankets and possibly exposing herself to the sunlight when that came around, so hopefully she could resist.

Without turning her head, Eva watched the vampire through her blood sight. She hadn’t so much as moved when Eva cut open her skin. There had to be a smell. Probably a good one at that, given how often Serena mentioned scent around Eva.

But her muscles were dead. Indistinguishable from an actual corpse.

Shaking her head, Eva used her blood magic to drive the nails into the wall near Juliana’s hands.

The act of shaking her head sent Eva wobbling slightly. She quickly caught herself, but the light-headed sensation stuck around.

She really needed another vacation. A real one this time.

But this was Brakket. No rest for anyone, wicked or not.

Really, she didn’t need Juliana’s help to hang the blankets. She could have held up the blankets at the same time as she used her magic to attach them. Having Juliana help her gave them an excuse to interact. It also kept Juliana from standing around awkwardly while Eva worked.

Though, with her suitcase only partially unpacked, she could have finished with that.

Oh well.

“You said that your family was staying in a house?” That might be a good reason why she hadn’t taken the Brakket Academy flight. It didn’t account for the hour at which they were traveling, but maybe with multiple people able to drive, they had just taken shifts.

Juliana gave a clipped nod as she held up the other corner of the blanket. “They wanted me to stay with them as well. I refused. My brother and father have only got more overbearing since Zagan showed up wondering why I wasn’t going to school anymore. I need a little space.”

“Doesn’t your mother need like… physical therapy or something?”

“She’ll be in bed, chairs, or her wheelchair for almost the entirety of the school year. Exercising is going to be very important. The doctors gave a list of things for her to do and how often to do them. They weren’t all that happy with her decision to come here. But… well, you know how headstrong she can be.”

“I doubt that someone who can throw down with Arachne would be stopped by a few doctors,” Eva said with a firm nod of her head. That nod gave way to a sorry sigh.

“Where is Arachne anyway?” Juliana asked as they moved over to the second window.

Eva did not miss the careful pace and neutral tone that she used. She looked off to the side, pointedly avoiding a glance in Eva’s direction.

During her visit earlier in the year, Eva had ensured that Juliana and Arachne would not cross paths. It just seemed to be a poor idea for the two of them to meet, given that Arachne was technically responsible for Genoa’s current condition.

Now, at least she wouldn’t have to worry about that.

“Arachne died. Her head exploded when nun lightning hit it.”

Juliana’s head snapped over to look at Eva with wide eyes. For a moment, she just stared. After that moment, she walked over to Eva and wrapped an arm around her shoulders in a loose hug.

“I’m sorry,” she said softly. “Are you alright?”

“Yeah. I’d say that I am fine. I’m not sure if that would be the truth or not. But it really doesn’t matter,” Eva added with a shake of her head. “I can’t just stop living because Arachne isn’t around. Besides, she’ll be back eventually.”

There was a short exhale from Juliana before she spoke. “How long?”

“No idea. Another month. Maybe a year. Ten? Fifty? I don’t know how a demon’s death truly works. The carnivean was back in a few months. So was the succubus that had her head crushed by Prax. The last time I asked Arachne about it, she told me that her previous death had been at least a few decades.”

“That’s… a long time.”

Eva half chuckled. “Yeah. You could say that.” Ducking out from Juliana’s hug, she tore the covers off Shalise’s bed. “Let’s get this other window covered before the sun comes up.”

While Juliana lifted up the blanket, Eva formed another four blood spikes.

They weren’t very large, but her headache was worsening. Between the transference circle, two feedings for Serena, and these spikes, it was starting to add up. Though it was now nearly five days ago, the blood she had packaged up for the vampires was probably adding to her anemia as well.

She doubled down on her thought to take a few days for a real vacation. A little rest and recuperation.

“What’s with us being in dorm three-one-seven? I thought they had split us up when I came back, but then I saw all your things lying around.”

“Ah, you missed all the excitement. Long story short, room three-thirteen got connected to my domain. The school gave us the room. However, with Shalise in another plane of existence and you officially dropping out of school—something I’m glad to see you got reversed—I was the sole owner of the room.

“That alone shouldn’t have been enough to allow me to link my domain. Not to mention the fact that I don’t know how to do that. Ylva thinks that it was the enigmas trying to push through into Earth that ended up making the connection. She showed me how to close it, but Martina felt that I should reside in a different room that had her name listed as an owner as well.”

“Sounds complicated.”

Eva gave a slight snort. “Yeah. Annoying as well.”

“Speaking about Shalise, how is she?”

“Presumably, she’s alright.”

“Presumably?”

“She’s not in Hell. Prax is out of her head.”

“Well,” Juliana said as the second nail pinned both upper corners of the blanket to the wall, “that’s good. I’m not seeing the presumably yet.”

“Lynn Cross kidnapped her and I have no idea where they are. They were camping out in some woods on the other side of the world, but they could have easily moved since then. I’ll ask Nel to check the next time I’m around. Which will probably be as soon as we’re done with this.”

As she spoke, Eva sent the last two nails into the bottom two corners. It probably didn’t need the bottom pinned to the wall, but she didn’t want to risk the ventilation kicking up the blanket and letting the sun in while Serena was unawares.

Speaking of, Eva thought as she turned from the windows.

Moving up to Serena, Eva knelt down at her side. The vampire’s stillness was unnatural at the best of times. At the moment, it was actually starting to creep Eva out.

“Hey,” Eva said as she placed a hand on Serena’s shoulder.

The vampire flinched back. It was slight, but enough for Eva to pull her hand back.

Even with the slight start, Eva pressed on. “Are you alright?”

“Fine.”

Eva frowned at the clipped answer. Obviously, she wasn’t fine. In fact, most times someone said that they were fine, it meant that they didn’t want to talk about whatever was bothering them. She had just about done the same to Juliana when asked about Arachne.

Still, Eva could respect not wanting to talk about certain things. Her sudden loss of control was probably something personal. A vampire thing that she just wanted to not think about.

That didn’t mean that she had to leave her entirely alone. “Can I get you anything?” Eva hesitated for just a moment before continuing. “I could probably spare some more blood if you needed.”

She didn’t really want to. Eva very much enjoyed her blood inside her own body and no one else’s. Unless, of course, she was about to explode said other person. She had no plans to do so to Serena at the moment.

Though, with her stomach already half full of Eva’s blood, she could put the vampire down if she went berserk again. Eva hoped that it wouldn’t come to that, but the possibility was there if it was needed.

If shedding another half-pint of blood could help prevent a rampage through the dorms and needing to obliterate the blood within the vampire’s body, Eva would gladly hand some over.

But Serena just shook her head. “No. I think I’ll sleep today away.” She looked up to Eva, the first real motion since she had propped herself up against the desk. With a sorry smile, she said, “I’m sorry that I won’t be able to accompany you.”

“That’s fine.” Eva put on a hopefully comforting smile as she stood up. “You’re free to stay here for the day. Use my bed, the one you’re leaning against, if you want.”

“Thanks. I think I will.”

So she said, but Serena glanced back to the floor, resuming her unmoving pose.

With a mental shrug, Eva turned to face Juliana. She didn’t have a chance to speak for Juliana opened her mouth.

“I’m coming with you,” Juliana said, trying as hard as she could to not look at Serena. “I can unpack later,” she said with a glance towards the open suitcase. “I want to know what’s going on as well. And I’m sure mom will want to find out sooner rather than later. Were it not for Zagan, I’m sure my father would have turned the car around the moment he saw the investigation notices.”

Eva nodded towards the door. “No sense wasting time then.”

Juliana didn’t need further urging. She pulled a light sweater out of her suitcase and slipped it on as she walked out of the room.

With one last look at Serena, Eva followed her out.

Hopefully nothing bad would come of leaving her alone in the dormitories.

Together, Juliana and Eva walked in silence. Given both the early hour and the fact that it was summer, not many other students were out and around the academy. They found no one on the stairs and, once they arrived outside, found no one wandering around the campus.

The silence lasted up until the two reached the sidewalks outside the dormitory.

“Vampire–” “So you–”

Both girls’ mouths snapped shut as they turned to each other.

After a moment of silence, Eva smiled and shook her head.

“You first.”

“Just to make sure that I heard you correctly, that vampire is friends with our professors?”

“Yeah. I don’t exactly know how that came about, but they’re familiar enough that Serena gave Zoe a hug and Zoe returned the hug.”

“Huh,” Juliana said with a frown. “Not really what I would have expected.”

“Like I said, she’s normally a lot nicer than you saw. Teleporting had some adverse effects, I guess.”

“I meant Zoe. Friends with a vampire? Not really something I’d picture given all of mother’s stories about vampires.”

Eva shrugged. Her only real experience with other vampires were those in Idaho. They had been half threatened into playing nice, so their behavior probably wasn’t all that typical. And, even before they had been threatened, they had been under the impression that Eva and Nel were some kind of servants owned by Serena.

“But you were saying that Zagan kept you from going to a different school? That seems nice of him.”

There was a sharp intake of breath from Eva’s side. After a quick stumble, all of Juliana’s blood fled from her body to concentrate around her face and ears. Her ripe tomato impression was going exceedingly well, but it was somewhat worrying.

“Are you alright?” Eva couldn’t help but to ask.

“Fine,” she said with a forced cough. “Just swallowed a bug down the wrong pipe.”

Eva frowned. Bugs had blood. Granted, they weren’t something that Eva normally paid attention to. With it pointed out, she tried looking and couldn’t see anything that might have gotten caught in her throat.

“If you’re sure…”

“Yeah. Zagan,” she paused to cough again. “When he helped out in Willie’s domain, we had a sort of agreement about me leaving the school. Or not leaving it.”

“An agreement with Zagan?”

That didn’t sound good. He hadn’t really done anything to do permanent harm to Eva. Though, after their conversation before her treatment, she now believed that to solely be because of her unique position as a ‘non-template’ demon. Juliana didn’t have any such insurance.

“It isn’t anything big,” Juliana said, face as red as before. “But it is a bit personal.”

Eva waited, but Juliana fell silent and did not continue. Whatever it was, she wasn’t going to elaborate if she didn’t have to.

Taking a deep breath, Eva said, “I just–”

“It’s nothing. Don’t worry about it.”

“That only makes me worry more. Zagan is a powerful demon who essentially wants for nothing. If he wants something from you, it’s all the scarier.”

“I know what he wants.”

Again, Eva waited to see if Juliana would explain.

She didn’t.

“So,” Juliana said after a few moments of awkward silence, “Sawyer’s dead?”

Though she had to frown at the obvious topic change, Eva nodded her head. “As far as I can tell. He was a necromancer, so I’ve been expecting all kinds of ways he could have cheated death. Nothing has popped up so far. Though, he only died last night. Maybe it will take a little longer.

“He also died in Hell. Are there reapers in Hell? Anyone to go around and collect his soul?” Eva mused, mostly to herself. Maybe he was floating around, plan foiled and trapped within her domain because he was on a whole other plane of existence from where he had probably planned on dying. “Then there was the fact that he died telling me that I should have killed him when I had the chance.”

“That’s not ominous.”

“Definitely not,” Eva said as she turned down a street a ways away from the Brakket Academy campus.

Living in a small city was actually kind of nice. Everything was in walking distance of everything else. Technically, most everything in Florida was within walking distance if she blinked around constantly. As long as she didn’t care about maintaining a low profile, getting seen wasn’t even an issue.

The apartment building that Ylva, Nel, and Zoe lived in was closer than most buildings to the academy. A few other teachers lived in it as well, the ones that didn’t own an actual house around Brakket.

As Eva stared up at it, she wondered just where Wayne lived. She had never had a reason to visit him at his home, but was fairly certain that he didn’t live in the apartment building. He probably had a home somewhere, but with the ability to freely teleport, he could live on the other side of the country if he really wanted to.

Whatever the case was with Wayne, Eva didn’t really care. It was just a momentary thought. She had no reason to visit him and didn’t want a reason to do so.

Taking the stairs up to the third floor, Eva found herself frowning.

The room up above that had previously held that overexcited woman was not empty. Neither the woman nor her companion were inside. Something else definitely was.

Something familiar.

Being nothing but densely packed tendrils, Lucy had something of an odd circulatory system no matter how she looked on the outside. Because of that, she was extraordinarily distinctive. Eva could pick her out of a crowd made up of demons and humans far easier than anyone else.

And there above Eva was Lucy.

Trying to reach out and detect her with her sense of demons failed entirely.

Some kind of ward?

That was the only explanation that Eva could come up with. Lucy was still alive. If only just. Her tentacles were moving ever so slightly. Perhaps she was drugged.

With how much blood was splattered around the room, it could be that she was just about dead.

Shaking her head, Eva started sprinting up the stairs, past the third floor.

She paused just long enough to turn to Juliana. “Room three-oh-four. Ylva should be inside with Nel and Zoe.” Eva could see all three of them through her sense of blood. “Let Ylva know that Lucy is upstairs in the room of that woman I warned her about. She’s injured.”

Without waiting to see if Juliana would do as she had asked, Eva continued her sprint upstairs.

Eva had already lost Arachne. She wasn’t such good friends with Lucy, but she didn’t want to lose her as well.

Reaching the door, Eva didn’t hesitate in jamming her dagger into her arm. Smearing a ring of blood around the deadbolt and handle, she stepped back. Even her blood should be strong enough to take out a wooden door.

Eva clapped her hands.

Her blood vanished with a flash of light.

Blinking away the spots in her eyes, she found the door to be entirely unharmed. Not even a scratch.

Undaunted, Eva lifted one leg into the air.

The door might be impervious to magical harm. Maybe mundane as well. The wall right around the handle had streaks of unpainted plaster filling in some gap. It clearly had been repaired recently. It likely wouldn’t have the same protections.

With all of her might, Eva kicked out her leg into the wall.

Shards of drywall, wood splinters, and dust filled the air as her foot went clean through the wall. Suppressing a cough, Eva jerked her foot back as fast as she could. Just in case something was on the other side.

Waving her hand to clear the dust from the air, Eva peeked through the hole.

Lucy was lying in the center of the room, unformed, within a set of glowing shackles. Tentacles had been removed from her main mass. Bits of Lucy were spread around, some in piles while others were scattered around the room. Furniture had been shoved aside to make room for all of the drawings on the floor.

“Hold on Lucy. I’m here,” Eva said as she reached through the hole she had made.

Fumbling around, she eventually managed to flick open the locks on the door. There was a chain set in place, but whatever enchantments had been placed on the door itself did not apply to it. At least, not all of it. With a grasp and a pull, the chain came off the wall.

She had expected the chain itself to break, but it was the latch attached to the wall that actually came apart.

Door unlocked, Eva swung it open.

Being able to see the room in full view did not make the sight any better. In fact, it was worse. Most of Lucy was not part of her anymore. As she stood at the threshold of the door, one of Lucy’s tendrils lifted in the air.

Lucy was obviously trying to fight it, but her fight wasn’t going so well. She either lacked the strength or whatever was lifting the tentacle was just too strong.

The tendril went taut. For just a moment, it held steady.

With a light popping noise, the tendril snapped off Lucy’s main body. It went flying, smacking against a wall where it slid down to the floor. Black blood splattered everywhere both around Lucy and against the wall.

This had to stop soon. Lucy couldn’t take much more of it.

Eva just about took a step into the room.

A faint glow at her feet held her up short.

There were more shackles carved into the entryway linoleum.

More than shackles.

Despite her associations, Eva was not a diabolist. She didn’t consider herself one and doubted that she knew enough to be considered anything other than an amateur. Still, she had something of an education from Devon. Whatever was on the floor, it would definitely do more than just trap demons. She couldn’t tell exactly what it would do, but it would be painful.

Gritting her teeth, Eva froze and watched as another of Lucy’s tentacles started lifting up into the air.

Juliana better get here soon.

<– Back | Index | Next –>


007.018

<– Back | Index | Next –>

It took most of the rest of the day for Eva to finally shake herself out of her stupor. After having a few minutes to calm down, Lucy’s domain probably hadn’t been the worst thing ever. It was close, but not the worst.

The tentacles weren’t even that bad. Eva could stand tentacles. That monster covered in holes on the other hand…

Another shudder wracked Eva’s body at the thought. Whatever it was, Eva wouldn’t mind never seeing it again.

At the moment, Eva was assuming both the tentacles and the monster–if they were even separate entities–to be a part of Lucy’s domain. Some constructs that she had created. Perhaps out of a desire for company, she had created a companion that was like her self and another that was the inverse of herself.

But if they weren’t created by Lucy… if they were attackers or invaders, then Lucy should probably be made aware of their presence. It could be a new type of enigma. Or even another demon. Whatever the case was, Eva hoped that Lucy wouldn’t be too upset with the brief tour of her domain that she had taken.

As unnerving as the domain had been, Lucy was still a genuinely decent demon to interact with. Sure, she was a bit strange, but who among Eva’s acquaintances wasn’t at least a little abnormal.

“I think I’m alright now.”

Eva turned her head from the window of her alternate women’s ward. Watching the sand and the dark sea had been a calming sort of meditation. But now, duty called.

One of those strange acquaintances stood in the doorway to the bedroom, rubbing the back of her neck. Eva couldn’t rank exactly how strange; Serena was either a highly ranked oddity or a fairly normal person with a few eccentricities. The fact that Eva couldn’t decide probably meant that she deserved a higher ranking than Eva was giving her credit for.

More important than some arbitrary rank of strangeness was the notion that perhaps they were more than simple acquaintances now. They had just gone on a long road trip and fought together. The fighting part had actually happened twice now.

A quick crack echoed through the air, interrupting Eva’s line of thought.

Serena had her head twisted to one side. One hand was on the back of her head while the other gripped her chin. As Eva watched, she twisted her head to the other side, releasing another sharp crack. Rolling her head from side to side, the vampire gave a short nod.

“Much better.”

“I’m glad to see you on your feet again. You had me worried for a while.”

Hands dropping to her hips, Serena put on a grin that wouldn’t be out of place on a child that had just learned that they were off to The Happiest Place On Earth.

Eva had never actually been to any amusement parks despite living most of her life only a stone’s throw away from two of the largest ones. She had, however, attended public schooling. Other classmates would often talk about their recent or upcoming vacations. As such, she had plenty of experience in recognizing that particular look.

“Aww,” Serena cooed. “I’m so happy that you were worrying for me.”

Ignoring the blood that she both saw and felt as it rushed to her cheeks, Eva just put on a small smile of her own. “Careful. Things work differently down here. Your inflated ego might just literally make your head balloon up.”

The vampire gave a light snort of laughter as she walked up to the window. All that was outside was sand, water, and the empty black sky.

“So this is Hell, huh? A lot less fire and brimstone than I had pictured.”

“I’m sure there are plenty of areas full of brimstone. As for fire, well, you missed Sawyer’s body being incinerated. It was quite the spectacular show.”

“If it is all the same to you, I’d prefer not being around too much fire.”

“Fair enough,” Eva said as she took a good look at Serena.

Despite her neck having been crooked not long ago, she couldn’t see anything wrong either externally or internally. Well, nothing wrong aside from the fact that Serena was dead to her sense of blood. Interestingly enough, Eva couldn’t sense any blood within her stomach. Given that the other vampires who had partaken in the drinking of her blood had still had some remaining even a few days later, it was something to note. Perhaps consuming the blood had assisted in her healing.

Rather than wallow in ignorance, Eva shook her head and decided to just ask.

“You’re fully healed then?”

“Mostly,” Serena said as she cricked her neck back and forth, eliciting two sharp snaps at either extreme. “I can’t say that having my neck broken like that is one of my more pleasant experiences as a vampire.”

“I imagine not. You did recover fast. Was that thanks to my blood?”

The vampire gave a slow nod as she licked the edges of her lips. “Blood always accelerates healing. I wasn’t really in a state to tell if your blood made healing faster or slower than normal. And,” she licked her lips again, “I wasn’t even in a lucid enough state to enjoy it.”

Serena reached one hand behind her neck and started rubbing. “I don’t think I’m quite healed all the way. I’m sure a little more blood would get that taken care of in the blink of an eye.”

Eva fixed the vampire with a mild glare. Her tone indicated a jest, but her eyes had a hungry glint in them.

“Maybe another time,” Eva said slowly. “Between feeding you and the blood I shed for the transference circle, I’m about a pint away from real lethargy and headaches.”

Serena stuck out her lips in a pout. The hunger behind her puppy-dog eyes really betrayed the effect.

Eva ignored the vampire. She gave a quick glance towards a watch that she had borrowed. It should be plenty dark out at the real women’s ward building.

“If you’re ready, we can head back to the real world.”

“So soon?” Serena turned from Eva to look back out the window. “Nothing to explore around Hell?”

It took a force of will to suppress a light shudder. “Not much, I’m afraid. You can see a full half of my domain from where we stand. The other half isn’t all that different. Visiting other demons’ domains is not a good idea.”

“What about the other demon? The big red one?”

“Prax?” Eva shrugged. “You could talk to him I guess, but he might be up on Earth soon enough. He’d be available for talking then, I’d imagine.”

Serena’s smile and general happy demeanor took a downward turn partway through Eva’s explanation. “Wayne will probably be quite upset with me for going on our little vacation. He’s left me be for the past while, but this will probably change that. I’ll have to go back home once he finds me.”

“What,” Eva started with a frown, “he locks you up or something?”

“I’m free to do whatever I want.” Serena’s voice was firm. “He doesn’t like things that could draw attention to his sister. I’ll comply with his demands, even if I’d rather do something else. Wayne, Zoe, and Sarah helped me out of more than a few sticky situations in the past decade or so. It’s the least I can do to repay them.”

Eva crossed her arms as she shifted her weight to one foot. The other foot started tapping lightly on the ground as her frown deepened.

That wasn’t fair. She had just started to like Serena. Now Wayne was going to drag her off?

Eva’s foot ceased tapping as a thought occurred to her. “How about if I give you something to draw out inside your house that will let me teleport to you? Then we could at least see each other once in a while. It can be attuned to me specifically, so no one else will be able to use it.”

If she had a gate room in her house, Eva could teleport there quite easily. With her new cellphone that she had liberated from the traitorous vampire, they could probably keep in touch at the very least.

“Maybe,” she said with a solemn nod of her head. “I’ll have to clear it with Wayne. It is his house.”

That ruined Eva’s bettering mood. Wayne did not particularly like her, she could tell. “Maybe speaking about it with Zoe first would be for the best?”

“She would be in a better position to convince him than I am.” Serena shifted, smiling again. “In the mean time, mind if I speak with this Prax guy? It is a rare occasion that I get to meet such fascinating creatures and I didn’t get much conversation in with the demons at your little party the other day.”

Eva shrugged. With a second glance at her watch, she said, “I’m sure you can spend a while talking. There are a good few hours before daybreak.”

“Splendid!” Serena said, already half out the door.

Eva hadn’t mentioned where Prax was, but it wouldn’t surprise her to find that a vampire could sniff him out.

In the mean time, it gave Eva the opportunity to clean up those enigma carcasses.

Hopefully, she and Serena would be gone before any more showed up. Without either of them here, things would go back to how they were with only Prax around.

“You stole my truck.”

Eva had just finished setting Serena down on the ground when Devon charged into the room.

His face lined in a scowl did not give him a happy look. He took two menacing steps forward, sending Eva backwards an equal number of steps.

“And you didn’t bring it back.”

“There’s a very good reason for all of that,” Eva said, holding up her hands in front of her. “And I have to go back for it anyway.”

Though she wished she could leave it behind. When she had considered the idea of having Zoe teleport her out to the motel to pick up the things that she had left behind, Eva had not even considered the truck. It would be so much easier if she could teleport out and teleport back. If Serena didn’t come along, they would be able to drive back during the daytime. That would probably cut the travel time down to a day and a half at the very most, depending on how many stops they made.

Convincing Zoe to teleport Eva out there was one thing. It would take a half hour at most to gather the book and other things that had been left. Zoe wouldn’t have needed to stay. Eva could teleport herself back without assistance.

Convincing her to teleport out there and then return by car might be a good deal more difficult.

But that was a concern for at least a half hour from now.

Eva had an angry Devon to placate before then.

“You stole it in the first place, didn’t you?”

“That’s beside the point,” he snapped. “How am I supposed to cart things around without my truck?”

“Get a new one then. It can’t be that hard to steal another truck. Look how easy it was to steal yours.”

Behind Eva, Serena pressed a hand to her mouth as she started shaking in silent humor. The silent part did not last long, but Devon didn’t even move as the soft giggles filled the air.

Eva ignored the vampire. Serena was probably making herself invisible to his senses or some other thing that Eva wished she could do.

“And, it was for a good cause.”

“I am not a charity.”

“Sawyer is dead.”

There was a pause. Devon pulled back from his slightly threatening stance to stand straight up. For almost a full minute, he stared. His dark eyes bored into hers.

“I don’t even know who that is.”

Eva let out a long sigh, ignoring the vampire’s outburst of giggles. “He’s the necromancer. You know, the one that stabbed me in the back, cut off my fingers, and gouged out my eyes?”

Realization dawned across Devon’s lightly scarred face. “Ah. He had a name?”

“I can say with absolute certainty that I’ve told you before.”

Devon waved his tentacle off to one side. “Lots of people tell me lots of names. I can’t be bothered to remember them all.”

“Sawyer was kind of important.”

“To you.”

Eva glared. Sawyer had been a personal target for a number of reasons, but that didn’t mean that everyone else didn’t also benefit from his death. He wouldn’t attack Brakket Academy again, Devon wouldn’t have to worry about her getting a cursed dagger in her back, Nel was safe, and, most of all, he was no longer doing anything with enigmas. She might have gone to Hell a few times, but that was nothing compared to the number of enigmas that Sawyer had.

If Devon and Ylva’s theories were correct, that could only be a good thing.

But Eva didn’t give voice to her thoughts. Were she speaking to Zoe or Wayne, she would have. They might have listened and changed their opinion. She knew Devon too well. He wouldn’t care much about any of her reasonings. Brakket and Nel could burn for all he cared, Eva wouldn’t have to worry about being attacked if she didn’t stick her neck out, and… well, he might be concerned about Hell. At the moment, Eva couldn’t say whether he cared more about that or his truck.

With a exasperated sigh, Eva shook her head. “I don’t suppose you know if Zoe is back from her trip? She can help recover your truck.” Eva paused, waiting for an answer. A thought occurred to her before Devon could respond. “Zoe is a professor at Brakket Academy. She’s got brown hair down to the bottom of her chin, wears a suit most of the time, and spends a lot of time here–”

“I know who she is,” Devon snapped.

“Good! Is she back yet?”

“How should I know? I’m not her minder.” He turned away, sinking his hands—rather, his hand and his tentacle—into the pockets of his long coat. Eva followed him out into the common room with Serena at her back. “Though, someone was skulking about the place yesterday.”

“Who?”

He shrugged. “Didn’t go check. Someone you know. Unless your wards in this place have failed again.”

“They haven’t.” Eva could say that with certainty. Based on her own blood, the wards in the prison were essentially an extension of herself. She could feel them wrapping around her and everything else around.

So, perhaps Zoe had shown up. Who else would have visited her? Catherine, Ylva, Zagan, and everyone else that Eva could think up would have known that she was off on a road trip. Except Wayne.

He wouldn’t have been looking for Eva. Serena would have been his target.

But if they were back, that was good news. She would have to have Nel find Zoe.

When she had dropped Nel off at the gate within her new dormitory room at Brakket Academy, she had asked the augur to see if she could find out where Des was. Whether that meant actually being able to see her or merely a dark spot, Eva really didn’t care. Asking her to find Zoe had slipped her mind.

Going to Nel would cut down on a lot of intermediary nonsense. Then she could be off to grab Devon’s stupid truck and the rest of her things. Getting it out of the way would be for the best.

“Bring my damn truck back or I swear…” He trailed off with a sorry shake of his head. “Just bring it back. It’s a pain to move things around by hand.”

“What are you moving around?”

“Chalk, mostly. I’ve been going through a lot of it lately. Buying in bulk is much easier than small boxes of sticks.”

“For ritual circles?” Eva asked. Receiving a clipped nod in response, she let out a short hum. “Still working with Catherine?”

Devon narrowed his eyes. “Haven’t seen it in a day or so. Something going on at the city. But the succubus has the occasional decent idea and knows its way around a ritual circle.”

“Better be careful. That could almost be interpreted as praise for a demon.”

Harrumphing, Devon stormed up to the door. “Just get my truck back.”

Eva did not follow him as he left the women’s ward. Rather, she went back to her room and placed the cursed dagger on top of her dresser. It was far too dangerous to just carry around anywhere she went. If the stone-like sheath ever failed, it would be far too easy to get accidentally cursed by its blade.

As she placed it on top of her dresser, she let out a short sigh of disappointment.

She hadn’t even had the chance to use it on Sawyer. After torturing him, that was how she had wanted to end his life. A certain cruel irony. He had stolen even that from her.

“So,” Serena said from the doorway. She couldn’t actually step into the room as it ran off separate wards that only Eva and Arachne were keyed into. “What do you suppose is going on back at the city? That demon seemed far too excited about the rituals to skip researching them for anything small.”

Eva raised an eyebrow as she slung off her backpack. There were still a few vials of demon blood left, including one from Zagan. That was a nice positive. It was always good to have a supply of quality blood.

With the load off her back, Eva focused on Serena’s question. “Nothing good, I bet.” Far from it, in fact. Hopefully it wouldn’t be another mass attack. “This is Brakket City after all. At least whatever is causing the disturbance isn’t Sawyer. Probably.”

“Probably?”

“He died too easily. There has to be some last minute middle finger to the face. Maybe he set up some plague or zombie apocalypse to go off in Brakket in the event of his death.”

“You seem… calm about that prospect.”

“Brakket has been attacked once or twice before. With all the demons running around, I’d be surprised if whatever situation that had cropped up wasn’t already resolved. Aside from that, I did drop Nel off at Brakket and didn’t see any fires outside the dormitory window. It can’t be that bad.

“Still, I suppose that I should go check it out.”

“You can’t leave me behind,” Serena said with a half pout. Her tone lost its playfulness and became far more serious. “If something has happened and Wayne is in trouble, I should be at his side right away.”

Eva turned to glance outside, but the thick blankets covering the windows of the common room impeded her efforts. She still knew roughly what time it was. Her watch worked fine whether the windows were covered or not.

“It will be daylight soon.” Her and Prax’s conversation had occupied much of the night.

“I am aware, but I still can’t do nothing. If the sun does rise, I will be able to find some closet to hide away in.”

“If you’re sure.” Eva couldn’t claim to have spent too much effort in saving Serena from the haugbui, but it would still be somewhat depressing if she just went and accidentally burned to death in the sunlight after all they had been through.

“Do you have a quick way of moving about? I was planning on teleporting to the gate in my dorm room. I’d offer you a ride, but the last human I brought with me looked like they had fallen into an industrial grade paper shredder. You aren’t human, but I still don’t know how pleasant it would be.”

“That human lived, right?”

Hesitating ever so slightly, Eva nodded her head. “Yes.”

“I’ll be fine. Besides,” she paused for just a moment to lick her lips, “if I do wind up severely injured…”

“Then I’ll throw you in some closet while I take a look around,” Eva said with a false smile. Deliberately injuring herself just to get some blood was less than endearing. She probably would give Serena blood if it came down to it, but she wouldn’t have to like it.

“So meaan.”

“Yep. Now come here, hold on tight, and don’t let go.”

Serena came up to Eva and wrapped her arms around in a tight hug. Slightly shorter than Eva, her head was nuzzled right beneath Eva’s chin. She drew in a deep breath through her nose.

For a moment, Eva worried that she might bite down. She didn’t, but it was still somewhat creepy.

Gathering her magic, Eva teleported.

The familiar screams and meat grinding filled Eva’s head. She waited with clenched teeth, preparing for and expecting the incineration of her non-chitinous flesh. It and the fact that she needed an exit gate were really the only two downsides to her method of teleportation.

So long as she had a gate, it was far superior to Zoe and Wayne’s teleportation.

As the teleportation continued, Eva realized that something was off. There was pain. Not much, but it was there. Rather than her flesh burning off until there was nothing left but bones, boils formed on her skin. They spread, charring the skin until it flaked off like ash. Muscles were exposed without the skin.

The effect didn’t go much deeper than that. It tried, but the pain just slid off her muscles.

It also afforded her a good view of her muscles. Much like her tongue, they had darkened considerably since the last time that she had teleported. Not quite to the same black void that her blood was at, but a very definite dark gray.

Until she had teleported with Lynn Cross, Eva had thought that all the pain and effects that she experienced during teleportations were mere illusions. When she emerged from the teleportation, she was always undamaged.

After seeing Lynn’s flayed body, she had altered that theory. What she was seeing was most likely real. Were she to slice off strips of her skin in the real world, she imagined that she would find the same sight.

As long as her body continued to function, Eva didn’t much care that the insides had changed colors. Devon might find it interesting. She made a mental note to tell him the next time she saw him.

Turning her attention to Serena, Eva found the vampire holding it together much better than Lynn had. Her skin was trying to fall apart and burn off, but with her teeth grit together hard enough to give worry for their integrity, Serena managed to overpower the damage through her vampiric healing.

It wouldn’t last forever. Small chunks of flesh flew off from her body to join with the fleshy walls of the teleportation tunnel around them. Every piece that managed to escape her body was ever so slightly larger than the previous one.

Lucky for Serena, she didn’t have to last forever. Not even half of forever.

Just as Eva was wondering what was taking the teleport so long compared to normal, the flesh walls and screams vanished. They both reappeared at the foot of Eva’s bed within her new dorm room.

Serena collapsed to her knees immediately. All the strength that she had been using to hold on to Eva vanished. The only reason that she wasn’t gasping for breath was because she was a vampire. She had as much need for oxygen as Eva had need for blood.

For drinking blood, that is.

Aside from small chunks of flesh missing from around her body, Serena looked mostly fine.

Looked.

There was definitely something wrong.

Her head turned upwards with a sharp snap. All of the barely concealed hunger that Eva had felt from the vampire ever since they had first met was on full display. Her lips pulled back to reveal sharp fangs hanging out of her wide open mouth.

“Whoa.”

Both Eva and Serena snapped their heads to look at the source of the voice on the opposite side of the room.

Juliana stood next to her bed, gaping open mouthed at the vampire.

Through her blood sight, Eva saw the vampire’s muscles tense.

She didn’t wait around to see what would happen. Swinging her arm down, Eva gripped the vampire by the throat. She threw her entire weight behind slamming the vampire down against the floor.

Closing her eyes to avoid any hypnotism or mind tricks, Eva pulled her dagger out of its sheath with the hand not around Serena’s throat and plunged it into her shoulder. Blood streamed straight through the vampire’s mouth and into her stomach. After about a pint of blood was inside the vampire, Eva cut off the flow and focused entirely on keeping Serena pinned to the ground.

If it looked even a little bit like she would break loose, Eva fully intended to break the vampire’s neck. She had survived it once, she could do so again.

Eva watched through her sense of blood as the vampire’s struggles died off. After a minute or two, she was lying still on the floor as her wounds healed up.

“Sorry,” the voice came out as a whisper. Barely audible even to Eva despite being only a few inches away.

Eyes still closed, Eva asked, “Can I let you go without you attacking anyone?”

“Yeah,” Serena said, not moving anything save her mouth. “I just–I don’t think it is a good idea to teleport with you on an empty stomach.”

“Fair enough.” Eva almost commented on how she had a bunch of blood just about twenty-four hours ago, but most of that had probably gone to healing her neck.

Slowly, she pulled away from the vampire. Eva’s eyes were still closed, just in case it was some kind of trick.

It didn’t seem to be.

The vampire was on the ground, arms and legs spread out as she stared up at the ceiling.

Eva moved a full step away and the vampire still hadn’t moved.

“Are you alright?”

“Give me a minute. I’ll be fine.” She let out a soft chuckle without otherwise moving. “I was hoping that your teleport wouldn’t leave me lying on the ground.” There was a slight pause before her voice dropped to a whisper again. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine. You didn’t hurt me or–” Eva glanced up to find Juliana fully encased in metal armor. The only holes were a few slits around her mouth and eyes. “I thought you were going to a school in Switzerland or something.”

“Scotland.” Her voice came muffled through her helmet. “Talking it over with my father and mother, we decided that Brakket would be the best choice. But…”

Juliana’s head tipped downwards to look at the fallen vampire.

“Juliana, meet Serena. Serena, Juliana.”

“Charmed,” Serena said without taking her gaze off the ceiling.

“Uh huh. Umm, what–”

“A vampire.”

Juliana took a step back. Her heart started beating beneath the thick armor coating her body.

“She’s normally pretty nice,” Eva said with a shrug.

“That’s… Um… Don’t let my mom find out.”

“Oh, is she up and about?”

That would be good news to hear. Eva genuinely liked Genoa and honestly wished that Arachne hadn’t done what she had.

“Wheelchair,” Juliana said softly. “She, my father, and my brother are all staying in a home out on the outskirts of the city. Bought it for dirt cheap I guess. They’re all living in separate rooms.” Shaking her head, Juliana looked back towards Serena. “She isn’t a student, is she?”

“Despite her looks, she’s old enough to be your grandmother. A little past school age.”

“I’m sixteen,” Serena said through grit teeth as she pushed herself to a sitting position. She gave a clipped glance towards Juliana before scooting backwards so that her back was resting against the drawers of Eva’s desk. “Friend of yours?”

Eva put on a proud smile. “Yep.” Turning her head towards Juliana, Eva said, “and she’ll never guess what we did over the past few days.”

“You didn’t kill anyone, did you?”

“No,” Eva said slowly, her smile slipping. “Well, I mean… I killed a vampire. And then was probably responsible for six more vampires dying. And then someone died who I wanted to murder. I don’t think that counts though.”

“You didn’t kill anyone around here though.”

Eva blinked. That was something of a strange question. “Should I have?”

“Two of Brakket’s security guards were killed. I thought that you might have gone after whoever did it.”

“Which two?” Eva asked with narrowed eyes.

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Author’s Note: Minor note in the comments again, mostly for supporters. Thanks everyone for reading and stuff!